The 9 Major Research Areas in Social Psychology

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Social psychologists investigate numerous topics in their research. Many of these subjects are related to social influence, social perception, and social interaction. Here are just a few of the major areas of interest within social psychology.

Social Cognition

Social cognition is concerned with the processing, storage, and application of social information. This research area is closely related to the field of cognitive psychology, a research area focusing largely on the concept of schemas. Schemas are our general ideas about the world, how things are, and how things work. These mental shortcuts allow us to function without constantly stopping to interpret everything around us. We also develop associations between related schemas, which plays an important role in the thought process and social behavior.

Attitudes and Attitude Change

Another major research area in social psychology involves the study of attitudes. Social psychologists are interested in the components of attitudes, how attitudes develop, and how attitudes change.

Researchers have identified three core components of attitude: an affective component, a behavioral component, and a cognitive component. Often referred to as the "ABCs of attitude," these elements describe how we feel, behave, and understand.

Violence and Aggression

What causes violence and aggression? Social psychologists are interested in how and why people engage in violence or act aggressively. Research in this area looks at numerous factors that may cause aggression including social variables and media influences. Researchers often look at the role social learning plays in producing aggressive behaviors and actions.

Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial behavior is another major research area in social psychology. Prosocial behaviors are those that involve helping and cooperating. Researchers often look at why people help others, as well as why they sometimes refuse to help or cooperate. The bystander effect is an example of a social phenomenon in the subject area of prosocial behavior.

Much of the research in the area of bystander effect was prompted by the murder of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. This case captured national attention when reports revealed that neighbors had witnessed her attack and murder, but failed to call the police for help.

Research inspired by the Genovese case produced a great deal of information on prosocial behavior and how and why people choose—or sometimes refuse—to help others.

Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes exist in any social group. Social psychologists are interested in the origins, causes, and effects of these types of attitudes and social categorizations. How does prejudice develop? Why are stereotypes maintained in the face of contrary evidence? These are only a few of the questions social psychologists seek to answer.

Self and Social Identity

Our perceptions of social identities and ourselves are another important research area in social psychology. How do people come to know and understand themselves? How do these self-perceptions affect our social interactions? Social psychologists are interested in learning more about how this inner life influences our outer lives and social world. Self-awareness, self-esteem, self-concept, and self-expression are only a few of the factors that influence our social experience.

Group Behavior

The behavior of groups is one of the largest research areas in social psychology. Most people realize that groups tend to behave differently than individuals. These group behaviors are sometimes beneficial and positive, but can also be detrimental and negative. Social psychologists often look at topics such as group dynamics, leadership, group decision making, conflicts, cooperation, and group influence.

Social Influence

Social psychologists are also interested in the role that social influence has on behavior and decision making. Topics such as the psychology of persuasion, peer pressure, conformity, and obedience are only a few of those studied in this area of social psychology.

Research has helped reveal the power of social influence and has uncovered ways to help people resist influence.

Interpersonal Relationships

Social relationships play a major role in shaping behavior, attitudes, feelings, and thoughts. Social psychologists study how these interpersonal relationships affect people by looking at attachment, liking, love, and attraction. How close relationships affect individuals, how important interpersonal relationships are, and what causes attraction are only some of the areas social psychologists look at in-depth.

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