Social psychology is the study of how social conditions affect human beings. Scholars in this field are generally either psychologists or sociologists, though all social psychologists employ both the individual and the group as their units of analysis. Despite their similarity, the disciplines also tend to differ in their respective goals, approaches, methods, and terminology. They also favor separate academic journals and societies.
Like biophysics and cognitive science, social psychology is an interdisciplinary area. The greatest period of collaboration between sociologists and psychologists was during the years immediately following World War II (Sewell, 1989). Although there has been increasing isolation and specialization in recent years, some degree of overlap and influence remains between the two disciplines.
- Main Article: Social psychology (psychology)
Most social psychologists are trained within the discipline of 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 place a great deal of emphasis on the immediate social situation, and the interaction between person and situation variables. Their research tends to be highly empirical and quantitative, and it is often centered around laboratory experiments.
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. Two influential journals for the publication of research in this area are the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. There are also many other general and specialized social psychology journals.
- Main Article: Social psychology (sociology)
A significant number of social psychologists are sociologists. Their work has a greater focus on the behavior of the group, and thus examines such phenomena as interactions and exchanges at the micro-level, and group dynamics and crowds at the macro-level. Sociologists are interested in the individual, but primarily within the context of larger social structures and processes, such as social roles, race and class, and socialization. They use a combination of qualitative research designs and highly 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.
- Cote, J. E. & Levine, C. G. (2002). Identity formation, agency, and culture. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Sewell, W. H. (1989). Some reflections on the golden age of interdisciplinary social psychology. Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 15. i
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