Why I love social psychology

When describing the scope of interest of social psychology we normally go back to the classic definition provided by Gordon Allport (1935): “Social psychology is the scientific study of how individuals think, feel and behave in a social context”. This means that, for social psychologists, interaction is a key element of interest. In this sense, this field of study is focused on understanding the many different ways in which humans interact with each other and their environments.

According to Susan Fiske (2010), the core motives that orient our interaction are belonging, understanding, control, self-enhancement, and trust. Generally, core social motives can be described as fundamental, underlying psychological processes that propel people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in situations that involve other people.

Based on this understanding of social interaction, social psychologists study a large variety of fascinating questions about people and their social worlds. The scope and relevance of these questions apply to so many important aspects of our lives, making social psychology applicable to numerous careers and interests.

Researchers are becoming more interested in how emotion, motivation and cognition can operate together in influencing individuals’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Individuals are sometimes faced with a conflict, involving both wanting to be right and wanting to feel good about oneself. Important answers are derived from the work of prominent social psychologists, explaining how group membership and self-concept are instrumental in shaping our identities.

The field of social psychology is constantly evolving and integrating new findings and challenges from other areas of research. The emerging subfield of behavioural economics studies how psychology – particularly social and cognitive psychology – relates to economic decision-making. Additionally, research into embodied cognition focuses on the connections between the mind and the body, such as how body gestures or movements can influence and be influenced by our thoughts and feelings.

Social psychological research that intersects with political science can offer valuable insights into a variety of important contemporary issues. Increasing numbers of social psychologists are evaluating the universalism or cultural specificity of their theories and findings by examining similarities and differences across cultures as well as between racial and ethnic groups within cultures.

Advancements in technology, such as improved brain-imaging techniques, have given rise to ground-breaking research in social psychology. Virtual reality technology enables researchers to test questions that otherwise would be impractical, impossible or unethical. The Internet has fostered communication and collaboration among researchers around the world, enabling researchers to study participants from diverse populations. It has also inspired researchers to investigate whether various social psychological phenomena are similar or different online versus offline.

It is clear that social psychology is worth appreciating, because it provides us with a framework by which we can understand how we identify ourselves, how we interact in groups. This field essentially assesses our willingness to improve the environments in which we are immersed.