Social Psychology

Understading Social Psychology - Scope & Emergence

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Social psychology is the study of how people think about, influence and relate to others. It explores how Individual or group behaviors are influenced by the presence and behavior of others (social situation). Sociology studies the nature of society, whereas psychology studies the nature of humans. Social psychology, on the other hand, studies the nature of man and his interactions with the society.

The concept of social psychology is around society and its focus is on individuals. Individuals' behaviour is shaped by societies, which manifest themselves through people’s activities, communication, and contact. We can learn about the dynamics of human behaviour in social circumstances by studying social psychology.
The applications of this discipline are in the areas of industry, education, health, mass communication system, struggle against anti-social behaviour, public services and sports etc. It explains and analyses the causes behind behaviors which may be related to the one or more than one social interaction factors mentioned below 5 factors :-

  • The action and characteristics of others.
  • Basic cognitive processes: memory, reasoning, belief, ideas, judgements about others.
  • Ecological Variables: direct and indirect influences of the physical environment
  • The cultural context: cultural norms, membership in various groups.
  • Biological aspects: human behaviour and genetic inheritance relevant to social behaviour.


Social psychology attempts to understand the relationship between minds, groups, and behaviors in three general ways:

  1. It tries to see how the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of individuals are influenced by social perception, social interaction, and the many kinds of social influence (like trust, power, and persuasion).
  2. Second, it tries to understand the influence that individual perceptions and behaviours have upon the behaviour of groups. This includes looking at things like group productivity in the workplace and group decision making.
  3. Third, and finally, social psychology tries to understand groups themselves as behavioural entities, and the relationships and influences that one group has upon another group. Sometimes there is also fourth level called the “ideological” level (especially in European psychology). It studies the societal forces that influence the human psyche.


Early Stages
Two earlier forms of social thought over the centuries are Platonic and Aristotelian. The importance of the state in Platonic thought was emphasised over the individual, who needed to be trained to become really social. Human beings are social by nature, according to Aristotelian theory, and nature can be trusted to allow individuals to live together and form personal ties from which families, tribes, and eventually the state will naturally evolve.

There are two schools of social philosophy today - the sociocentric and individualistic approaches, respectively. Individual experience and behaviour are shaped by social structures (systems, institutions, and organisations), according to a sociocentric viewpoint. Individual processes and functions are stated to be explicable in terms of social systems using the individual-centered approach. Individualism has always been a feature of the field. Individualism has been defined and criticised in psychology for its self-centered denial of the other. Individualism has occurred in sociological philosophy in two forms:

Hedonism: People act in order to secure and maintain pleasure and to avoid and reduce pain.
Utilitarianism: The doctrine that advocates the pursuit of the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

The basic principles of individual satisfaction (reinforcement, reward, stress reduction, dissonance reduction, uncertainty reduction) are versions of the pleasure or utility principle in most modern theories of conditioning and motivation. Many social psychology theories include utility and satisfaction as fundamental characteristics.

Later Stages
In modern era, social psychology branched off from the psychology and evolved as a separate discipline. The requirement concerning the solution of socio-psychological problems came up in various related sciences. The processes involved in the separation of socio-psychological problems within the two parent disciplines: psychology and sociology. Finally, the first of independent socio-psychological knowledge in the forms of socio-psychological theories sprung up around people’s psychology, mass psychology and the instincts of social behaviour.

People’s Psychology
People’s psychology developed as one of the first forms of socio-psychological theory in Germany in the mid 19th century. It was considered that the main force of history is the people, or the ‘spirit of the whole’, which can be seen in art, religion, language, myths, customs etc. The individual consciousness is only its product, a link in a certain mental connection. The task of social psychology was to discover the laws that guide the spiritual activity of the people. Physiological psychology, in views of Wilhem Wundt (1832-1920) was an experimental discipline, but experimentation was not considered useful for the study of higher mental processes: thinking and language. People’s psychology considered language, myths, customs, art and religion as objectives of study (called clots of ideology or crystals).

Mass Psychology
Any gathering of individuals symbolised the concept of the mass. It is characterised by depersonalization, primacy of emotions, a general loss of intellect and a feeling of personal responsibility. Events such as mass movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rapid social and economic developments as a result of industrialisation and urbanisation aided mass psychology, but had little impact on the future of social psychology.

Social Psychology
Social psychology is the scientific study of the experience and behaviour of individuals in relation to other individuals, group and culture. The social psychology approach is different from disciplines that research large-scale societal issues and those that concentrate on individuals. The socio-psychological ideas developed first in philosophy and subsequently gradually separated from the psychological knowledge system.

While people’s psychology and mass psychology were the first types of socio-psychological research, sociology and evolutionary theory were two important fields in the nineteenth century. At this time, the area is seeing a growing influence of cognitive perspective as well as an increase in interest in application.

Tarun Kumar
Tarun Kumar
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