What is a Social Psychology Degree?

How do we perceive ourselves? How do we think about others? How do others think about us? How is our behavior influenced by others? These are the kinds of questions posed by social psychologists.

Social psychology is essentially the study of how each person’s individual behavior is influenced by the social environment in which the behavior takes place. By its nature, therefore, the field examines topics as wide-ranging as antisocial behavior, attitudes, control, decision making, emotions, interpersonal and intergroup relationships, personality, prejudice, prosocial behavior, self, social cognition, and social influence.

Greek philosopher Aristotle said, ‘Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual.’ This is the starting point for the study of social psychology.

Program Options

Master’s Degree in Social Psychology – Two Year Duration
Because social psychology bachelor’s programs are very uncommon, applicants to master’s programs in social psychology must typically hold a bachelor’s degree in general psychology. At the master’s level, the curriculum is a combination of lectures, laboratory work, practicum experiences, and thesis research, presentation, and defense. Many students who earn a master’s in social psychology go on to earn a doctorate in the field. Some schools offer a combined master’s / doctoral degree.

Depending on the specific program, coursework explores a variety of subjects from the social psychology perspective, from the premise that the social situation is frequently a stronger influence on behavior than are a person’s characteristics:

  • Altruism, prosocial behavior (behavior intended to help other people), and social support
  • Bystander effect (failure to help an individual in need)
  • Child development
  • Conflict and psychological control
  • Conformity and obedience to authority
  • Emotion and its development
  • Family dysfunctions
  • Friendship
  • Grief in a family context
  • Group behavior
  • Happiness, wellbeing, and flourishing
  • Health
  • Human aggression and violence
  • Immigration
  • Intercultural communication
  • Intergroup relationships, collective identity, and collective action
  • Interpersonal influence and social power
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Language learning
  • Leadership and group dynamics
  • Life transitions
  • Motivation, goals, and self-regulation
  • Personality and organizational behavior
  • Personality and personality development
  • Political psychology
  • Pro-environmental attitudes and behavior
  • Psychological influence of children’s TV and media
  • Psychology of attraction and intimate relationships
  • Psychology of crime, criminal behavior, and the prison system
  • Psychology of diversity
  • Psychology of justice
  • Psychology of sexual orientation
  • Psychosis in the social context
  • Self and social identity
  • Self control
  • Self-esteem
  • Sex, gender, and behavior
  • Social change
  • Social perception and cognition (how people perceive and think about their social world)
  • Social problems
  • Social psychology of cyberspace and social media
  • Social stigma
  • Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination
  • The construction of attitudes and beliefs; the changing of attitudes and beliefs
  • The Holocaust
  • The thinking consumer in a materialistic society

Doctoral Degree in Social Psychology – Four to Six Year Duration
The objective of the doctoral program is to develop competence in designing, conducting, and evaluating research in the social psychology sphere. Required courses at this level, therefore, focus on research methodology and modeling, as well as social neuroscience, the discipline which seeks to understand the connection between the brain and social behavior. With these strong foundations, doctoral candidates develop a research topic. Expanding upon some of the subject areas listed in the master’s section above, the following are some sample topics:

  • Authenticity
  • Betrayal
  • Brainwashing
  • Bullying
  • Date rape
  • Deception (lying)
  • Delay of gratification
  • Displaced aggression
  • Ego depletion
  • Embarrassment
  • Empathy
  • Envy
  • Experiences of awe
  • Extraversion
  • Forgiveness
  • Gossip
  • Gratitude
  • Group decision making
  • Guilt
  • Habits
  • Hope
  • Introversion
  • Jealousy
  • Learned helplessness
  • Loneliness
  • Moral hypocrisy
  • Need to belong
  • Narcissism
  • Overconfidence
  • People’s thoughts about themselves through time, including their identity, memories, predictions, goals, and motivation
  • Procrastination
  • Regret
  • Self-defeating behavior
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Sexual harassment
  • Shame
  • Shyness
  • Social anxiety
  • Social exclusion
  • Trust
  • Volunteerism

Degrees Similar to Social Psychology

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics.

Child Psychology
Degree programs in child psychology prepare students to work in one or more of the three main concentrations in the field.

Adolescent psychology is focused on issues relevant to children and youth between the ages of 12 and 18. These issues include behavioral problems, learning disabilities, depression, and eating disorders.

Developmental child psychology is concerned with the emotional and cognitive developments that impact children as they age. Among these developments are language, formation of identity, and understanding of morality.

Abnormal Child Psychology focuses on the treatment of children and adolescents dealing with atypical issues like physical abuse, trauma, personality disorders, and sociopathy.

Criminology is the study of crime, the human factors and behaviors that make it happen, and its impact on society. Degree programs in the discipline include coursework in: criminal law, psychology of crime, statistical and computer applications in criminal justice, and research methods in criminal justice.

Early Childhood Education ECE
A degree in early childhood education provides students with ECE fundamentals and helps them develop leadership and advocacy abilities, as well as the administrative skills required to work in the field. Typical coursework in degree and certificate programs focuses on child growth and development, behavior guidance, supporting children and families, children with exceptionalities, and effective curriculum planning.

Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology is the psychological assessment of individuals who are involved, in one way or another, with the criminal justice and legal systems. Students of the field learn about profiling suspects, assessing the mental health of inmates, and criminal and civil procedures.

Health Psychology
Degree programs in health psychology explore the intersection of health and behavior. They focus on how psychology, behavior, and social factors influence health, illness, and recovery.

Human Development
Degree programs in this human development explore physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development through each stage of human life – prenatal, infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle adulthood, late adulthood, and death and dying.

The physical domain is concerned with growth and changes in the body and brain, the senses, motor skills, and health and wellness. Cognitive human development comprises learning, attention, memory, language, thinking, reasoning, and creativity. Psychosocial development involves emotions, personality, and social relationships. Students learn how these three domains of human development influence and impact every aspect of our lives – from self-respect and self-esteem to how we interact with family, peers, and society at large.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Industrial and organizational psychology is the scientific study of human behavior in organizations and the work place. The specialty focuses on determining principles of individual, group, and organizational behavior and applying this knowledge to the solution of problems or issues at work.

Psychobiology is the interaction between biological systems and behavior. It is concerned with how what we think and what we feel combine with biological events. Research in the field covers topics such as how psychological stressors can impact the brain and behavior. An example is how an exam or job interview can cause heart palpitations.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

School Psychology
School psychologists work in K-12 schools. They work with teachers, principals, administrators, counselors, and parents to provide students with academic, emotional, and social support.

Social Work
Social work is about helping people solve and cope with problems and challenges in their everyday lives. Students who pursue a degree in the field gain the knowledge and skills, as well as the ethics and values, to work for social justice for individuals, families, organizations, and communities. The typical curriculum examines issues such as child welfare, mental health, poverty, aging, domestic violence, and marginalized groups.

Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Skills You’ll Learn

Social psychology grads leave their studies with a strong set of transferable skills and competencies:

  • Appreciation for diversity
  • Communication demonstrated through written work, presentations, and informed debate
  • Identifying and locating sources of information
  • Interview techniques
  • Problem solving with critical, reasoned thought
  • Research, quantitative and qualitative methods, and fieldwork
  • Social perception / understanding of social issues
  • Statistical analysis using software packages
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Writing of descriptive reports and analytical papers

What Can You Do with a Social Psychology Degree?

From home to the classroom to the workplace and beyond, social psychology is at play in many areas of our lives. While most social psychologists go into teaching or conduct research at a college or university, career options for those who study the discipline exist in other sectors as well. Some of these roles in applied social psychology may require further education and/or on the job training.

  • Advertising / Promotions / Marketing Manager – knowledge of human behavior is fundamental to creating effective advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at attracting consumers
  • Human Resources Manager – the HR practitioner who is also a social psychologist is particularly well equipped to optimize the workforce of any organization
  • Industrial Organizational Psychologist – working closely with human resources departments, applies psychological research to the workplace; helps businesses hire more qualified employees, develop corporate culture, maintain employee engagement and morale, improve organizational structure and efficiency, and ease transitions such as corporate mergers; studies consumer behavior
  • Political Strategist / Consultant – applies the principles of social psychology to develop a platform and devise strategies to help politicians win over voters
  • Public Relations Specialist – an intimate understanding of groups and how groups communicate and interact is of great benefit to the PR specialist, whose job it is to communicate with different groups of people about critical issues
  • Research Psychologist – is employed by governments and non-profit agencies to conduct applied research regarding social issues; this research reveals how people feel, think, behave, and perform in certain conditions and can influence policy development in areas such as education and environmental protection
  • Social Services Representative – the work of connecting individuals and families with healthcare and other social services can only be facilitated by an appreciation for how social situations influence behavior
  • Technology Designer – uses understanding of how people communicate, socialize, and influence one another in order to design office buildings, apartment buildings, single family homes, parks, smartphones, and apps that facilitate improved interaction


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