Social psychology and personality psychology study human behavior. In its purest sense, personality psychology focuses on the individual, while social psychology is more situational. Both aspects of human behavior are so tightly interwoven that many times the words are interrelated. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that social psychology involves an individual’s beliefs, feelings, and thoughts during different situations.
These situations can involve friendship, prejudice, helping, conformity, romance, and interactions with others. Most of us tend to practice a little bit of psychology while “people watching”; we try to observe the world with an understanding of why people do the things they do. Approaching these same observations in a more systematic way, the social psychologist will observe, describe, measure, or manipulate aspects of social situations to reveal answers to puzzling questions. Using a combination of basic and applied research, social psychologists will study human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as well as conduct studies that can impact a person’s health, business, and family issues. This means that work is conducted to help employers hire the right people, assist people in coping with life-threatening diseases, analyze the effect of prejudice on international negotiations, and other societal impacts.
Social psychology is similar to organizational psychology and sociology in that it helps to understand people’s behaviors within and outside an organization and studies individuals as well as large social systems and societies. Subjects such as culture, human diversity, stereotyping, multiculturalism, and minority issues are studied. To study human conditioning by “nature and nurture” provides a way to look at how people relate to one another and adjust to social norms. Some of the research that social psychologists conduct is through observation in natural or controlled settings. Other research involves more complex techniques.
Because this field uses a combination of psychology and sophisticated research methods, many career opportunities exist in this field. There are teaching opportunities, researchers, marketing directors, political strategists, health care, government, law, nonprofit, consulting, and business. Public policy uses the research of social psychology to design and evaluate policy and programs in education, conflict resolution, healthcare, and environmental protection.
Most practicing social psychologists possess at least a master’s degree and many decide to pursue a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). The holder of a doctorate degree will face less competition than others in the field and is required to be a professor at some colleges and universities. Most social psychology programs will teach the student best practice research methodology, data analysis, and research writing. Admissions into social psychology programs are competitive, so qualifications are rigorous. The admission rate at some of the top schools is less than 5%, and PsyD programs at professional psychology schools are easier to get into than PhD programs at universities. While, at this time, there are no PsyD programs in social psychology, a person can still obtain the Doctor of Psychology degree as an alternative. One strategy in getting accepted into a program is to apply to four to six top choice schools and another four to six second choice schools. A master’s degree will take about two years to complete, and a doctorate takes between four to six years.
Most applicants to psychology graduate programs have earned a high GPA, have an undergraduate psychology degree, experience doing psychology research, and high GRE scores. Schools expect three confidential letters of recommendation from previous teachers, advisors, or research supervisors. Many schools will also ask the applicant to write a short essay about their career goals and research interests. Once you have completed your education, job openings can be found in many locations. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the median salary is $92,500. Try contacting the Association for Psychological Science, the American Psychological Association and Social Psychology Network for job leads and networking opportunities. The profession is trying to reach out to ethnic minority students as a way to encourage more minorities to enter the field. The SPN mentorship program was established to help students ask questions about the profession from mentor of their choice.