People are pretty fascinating. Sometimes, people surprise us. How we treat other people, form groups, and make decisions doesn’t always make sense, but it is always a good topic of conversation or subject to consider.
But maybe you don’t just want to laugh at the strange things that people do or chat about it with your friends and family. Maybe the interest you have in people and behavior goes deeper. You want to discover what makes people tick and how we choose our friends, colleagues, and allies.
If this sounds like you, you may want to consider a career in social psychology.
What does a Social Psychologist Do?
Social psychologists delve deeply into the intricacies of human social interactions, studying everything from their inception to their long-term implications. They seek to understand the mental processes of individuals, couples, teams, and entire populations as they identify themselves, form social groups, distinguish 'in-group' and 'out-group' members, and interpret social dynamics.
For instance, a business might consult a social psychologist to understand how workplace teams form and function, ensuring smoother group dynamics and increased productivity. Or, in a community grappling with racial tensions, insights from social psychologists can guide interventions to foster understanding and reduce prejudice.
The insights and findings from social psychology are invaluable in our daily lives. They shape our understanding of why we think and act the way we do in social situations. Consider how the well-known principle of cognitive dissonance can explain why someone might change their beliefs to align with their actions after making a controversial decision. Or how attribution theory can illuminate why we sometimes blame others for their misfortunes, attributing it to their character rather than their circumstances.
For those who aspire to decode the complex tapestry of human social behavior and facilitate a deeper understanding of phenomena like cognitive dissonance, attribution, and many others, a career in social psychology is a compelling choice.
To become a social psychologist, a certain level of education is required. While many positions in the field require a doctorate, it's also possible to enter the profession with a Bachelor's or Master's degree in psychology, depending on the specific role and employer.
A PhD may be more advantageous if you're aiming for positions in top consulting firms, research facilities, or private corporations. Additionally, considering board certification can further enhance your credentials and job prospects regardless of your degree level.
Salary (How Much Do Social Psychologists Make?)
Social psychologists don’t always use the term “social psychologist” to describe their job position: they may call themselves industrial-organizational psychologists or use their knowledge and experience to become marketing directors or college professors. For this reason, there isn’t a lot of data on how much social psychologists earn. You can, however, expect to earn a comfortable living due to your high level of education and specialty in a field that can be applied to virtually every workplace.
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Schools for Social Psychology Degrees
Whether you want a Harvard education or stick to the school closest to your home, you can find a social psychology program. The study of human nature and social interaction is a universally intriguing topic! Keep these programs in mind as you make the next steps in your career:
- The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
- Yale University (New Haven, CT)
- Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
- University of California - Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
- The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (Twin Cities, MN)
- The University of Texas - Austin (Austin, TX)
- The University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
- Indiana University - Bloomington (Bloomington, IN)
- University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
- University of Oregon (Eugene, OR)
Companies That Hire Social Psychologists
Where do social psychologists work? The answers are endless! Again, the insight that social psychologists can provide can elevate team-building efforts, tap into a consumer's mind, and explain human history’s biggest surprises. Many organizations could use the help of a social psychologist, including:
- Colleges and universities
- Role: Professors or lecturers teaching social psychology courses, guiding student research, and contributing to the academic advancement of the field.
- Application: Leading seminars on group dynamics or biases, researching campus culture, and advising on strategies to foster inclusivity.
- Research facilities
- Role: Research scientists or analysts studying various facets of human social behavior.
- Application: Designing and conducting experiments to understand conformity, persuasion, or groupthink.
- State and local government agencies
- Role: Behavioral scientists or consultants advising on public policy or community programs.
- Application: Develop community outreach programs that leverage social psychological principles to enhance community cohesion or public compliance with health initiatives.
- Military institutions
- Role: Behavioral consultants or trainers.
- Application: Designing training programs that strengthen team cohesion, assess and improve morale, or decode the psychological aspects of enemy tactics.
- Market research institutes
- Role: Consumer behavior analysts or research directors.
- Application: Studying consumer purchase behaviors, understanding brand loyalty, or designing surveys that delve into the social motivations behind consumer choices.
- Consulting firms
- Role: Organizational behavior consultants or team dynamics specialists.
- Application: Advising businesses on how to enhance workplace culture, improve team collaboration, or address internal conflicts using principles of social psychology.
The expertise of social psychologists is versatile, making them an asset in any organization that deals with or seeks to understand human behavior and interaction.
Interviews with a Social Psychologist
Take a deeper dive into social psychologists' tasks and everyday lives by listening to them! On YouTube, you can watch Dr. Jennifer L. Eberhardt, 2014 MacArthur Fellow, as she explains the work that she is doing in her field regarding race and crime.
Amy Cuddy speaks about how her work has developed around body language and nonverbal communication. In a longer interview, Dr. Robert Sellers (psychology professor and Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan) talks about recent developments in social psychology.
Famous Social Psychologists
Social psychology is a relatively new field of study, but it has already produced fascinating theories and notable figures in the psychology world.
Norman Triplett (1861-1931)
- Timeframe: Late 19th century to early 20th century
- Contribution: Recognized as one of the very first social psychologists, Triplett's experiments on social facilitation theory in the 1890s demonstrated how an individual's performance can improve when tasks are performed in the presence of others.
Henri Tajfel (1919-1982)
- Timeframe: Mid-20th century
- Contribution: Renowned for his work in the 1970s on social identity theory, Tajfel explored how individuals classify themselves and others into "in-groups" and "out-groups."
Robert Sternberg (b. 1949)
- Timeframe: Late 20th century to present
- Contribution: Particularly active during the 1980s and 1990s, Sternberg formulated influential theories on various forms of love, detailing the components required for two individuals to experience different nuances of love.
Leon Festinger (1919-1989)
- Timeframe: Mid-20th century
- Contribution: Festinger, in the 1950s, introduced the term “cognitive dissonance.” He delved into the psychological discomfort individuals experience when confronted with conflicting beliefs or values.
Fritz Heider (1896-1988)
- Timeframe: Mid-20th century
- Contribution: Often hailed as “the father of attribution theory,” Heider, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s, pioneered research into understanding how people interpret and explain their behaviors and those of others.
Social Psychology Examples
Want to discover the hottest new theory in social psychology or learn more about how different groups form? Social psychology may be the career for you. After years of school and training, you might find yourself:
- Teaching classes on recent developments in social psychology
- Researching how different theories apply to recent historical events
- Consulting with a private corporation about team building
- Writing a book based on interviews and data collection regarding in-groups and out-groups
- Talking with military leaders about how certain hazing methods affect the mindset of soldiers
Social psychology is a relatively new but completely fascinating branch of psychology. Social psychologists' work can also help us understand our world and make it a better, safer, and more enjoyable place for all.