What is Social Psychology?

The social psychology is a way to analyze the behavior of human beings, and to identify the key aspects of this mode of analysis are necessary to examine, with a presentista orientation, complex and problematic historical process that leads to it.

The presentista orientation is the interest by the past in attention to the present and the functions that it has are: to establish the identity of the discipline, to justify our current research and to learn from the past what is useful and what does not deserve attention.

Social psychology                                                       

Seeking the causes of the emergence of social psychology is a complex process by the confluence of theories and methods; and problematic for open discussions when it comes to creating a definition.

Historical development of Social Psychology

The development of social psychology is closely related to the process of industrialization that took place in the nineteenth century. The establishment of naturalism in the explanation of social phenomena was imposed and traditional systems of ethical valuation were abandoned.

These conditions were necessary for the development of a rational and scientific way of thinking that would eventually lead to the birth of the social sciences, including social psychology. All this led to the creation of new concepts for the analysis of the relations between the individual and society.

There are two approaches to social psychology, which relate the individual to society:

The studies assume a social-centered approach when they consider the structure and the social context as conditioners of the individual behavior. The psychology of the peoples that it leaves from Herbart is a first social psychology, since for the first time consciously social factors are looked for variables external to the individual, to explain psychic events, although these are more of a community or group character than individual.

The changes of perspective that took place also implied a change in the methodology, which consisted in replacing a general and abstract concept such as that of the people in a more specific and operative one, such as that of a social group. Social psychology has as its task the study of the psychic experiences of the individual within a group relationship, outside of which such experiences are unimaginable.

Therefore, the unit of analysis of social psychology is the individual in society or as a member of a group.

It is called a psychosocial approach to the study of individual and group behavior as a result of the relationships between individuals.

1st psychosocial perspective: Under the term “people’s psychology” we are faced with a first psychosocial perspective in which individuals are treated as independent psychiatric units whose mutual exchange functions as a research object.

2nd psychosocial perspective: The other line of fundamental thought to explain the beginning of social psychology is the one that starts from Comte:

  1. His proposal was to study social phenomena scientifically, as if they were subject to invariable laws that can be discovered through reasoning and observation.
  2. It called for the development of a science that dealt with the interaction between the individual and society. For Comte, the sciences that studied the human being, biology and sociology, were insufficient, so it was necessary to create a science that combined both, this science was the moral, which is something very similar to what we call today Social psychology.

Psychic unity of the masses

Gustave Le Bon was interested in the analysis of collective phenomena and published a work called Psychology of the masses. The beginning of this work speaks of the differentiation between individual psyche and collective psyche, the first conscious, rational and peaceful and the second subconscious, irrational and violent.

After this, he established his psychic or mental law of the masses, which argues that individuals are united in a common feeling that erases personality and social status differences, which reduces the intellectual faculties and causes homogeneous patterns Of behaviors, most often destructive behaviors.

In the mass the individual ceases to be himself and loses voluntary control of his behavior. The mechanisms and processes that underlie this law are the anonymy or deindividuation, the contagion psychic and the suggestibility.

Constitution of social psychology

The birth of social psychology as an intentional object of reflection and disciplinary action takes place during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

A first base social psychology takes place in sociology and the main contributions were made by:

– The American sociologist Ross argued that social psychology studies the planes and psychic currents that occur among men as a consequence of the association.

– GH Mead argued that social psychology is the study of experience and behavior of the individual, who is part of a social group.

The other fundamental basis of social psychology is found in psychology and the main contributions were made by:

– McDougall argued that innate tendencies define behavior and social structure. Innate or inherited tendencies are the most powerful motives of all thought and action, both individual and collective.

– All port defends an experimental social psychology and behavioral court. For Allport there is no group psychology that is not essentially a psychology of individuals. The alternative of Allport is a social psychology characterized by: its membership in the field of psychology, that its object of study is the behavior of the individual, focus this study of behavior from a perspective of proven solvency in psychology (behaviorist) and All based on an experimental methodology.

Consolidation of social psychology

Starting in the 1930s, social psychology entered a stage of consolidation and development characterized by:

– The development of a large number of theories lacking a common conceptual framework (social influence, frustration-aggression)

Related:What is social influence?

– The use of a refined experimental methodology (attitudes scale, sociometric test, social climate). – A growing interest in the application of psychosocial knowledge to solve practical problems.

Crisis of social psychology

There are many factors that provoked the crisis of social psychology, the most important are:

– The confrontation between “psychological” social psychology and “sociological” social psychology.

– The distrust in the experimental methodology. – The ethical problems posed by psychosocial research.

– The social irrelevance and sociocultural decontextualization of theories and psychosocial research.

– The theoretical fragmentation and dispersion involved in social psychology and its preparadigmatic situation, that is, it lacks a charism that is accepted by the entire scientific community.

– The debate on the scientific status of social psychology.

Current Trends in Social Psychology

– Social cognition as a center of interest within the mainstream of social psychology.

– Coexistence of certain pluralism: multiplicity of alternative theoretical and conceptual orientations.

Theoretical and conceptual perspectives


The general theoretical orientations defend points of view on the essence or nature of man.

Behavioral orientation

He defends that man is determined fundamentally by means and by the immediate consequences of pleasure or pain.

Etogenic orientation

It is responsible for creating conceptual schemes through which observations and identifications of actions are made. One of these conceptual schemas is the role, which indicates the particular position of an individual within a social system.

Psychoanalytic orientation

He considers that man is determined by the conflict between his animal nature and society, the latter represented mainly by his family. As mediating forces to this conflict their rational faculties and their adaptive capacities act.

Cognitive organization

He argues that man is basically interested in developing an organized and meaningful conception of his world.

Sociobiological organization

He argues that social behavior is genetically determined.

Medium Scope Theories

Medium-range theories allow us to establish operative and testable hypotheses. All theories are valid provided they meet a number of criteria and functions.

The criteria that a theory must fulfill to be valid are the following:

  • Logical Fertility: They must allow logical deductions.
  • Multiple Connections: Theoretical constructions and concepts of theory must be interconnected.
  • Empirical extension: Some of the concepts must be related to observable facts that allow a variety of equivalent empirical definitions.

In terms of functions, it should be noted that the construction of theories is an activity developed by the scientist to achieve a series of objectives:

  • Organize our observations to give them meaning. That is, a theory is a model of a set of facts and not just a set of data. Theories systematize the knowledge of a sector of reality.
  • Describe new relationships that increase our knowledge about a sector of reality.
  • Stimulate research, by approaching problems and recommending the collection of new data.
  • Sensitize us about the effects of certain variables on our behavior. Accordingly, knowledge of a particular theory can help us know how to behave in certain situations.

Theoretical perspectives

Individualistic perspective: It considers the individual as a natural starting point for the analysis of the psychosocial, that is, focuses on the individual the essence of social psychology, which is considered a part of general psychology.

Attempts to explain individual behavior from an individualistic perspective have followed two directions: the instinctivist (McDougall) and the behaviorist (Allport).

  • Institutional Perspective: Social behavior is defined as that which results from the individual’s belonging to a specific socio-cultural system. We find a discipline approach in which social determinism is often used to consider the individual as a simple product the socio-cultural order. One of the proponents of this view was Durkheim.
  • Group perspective: Defends the existence of group psychic entities and defines social psychology as the discipline that studies the psychic manifestations of these groups. It was defended by Ross.
  • Transactional Perspective: It differs from the previous ones in that it does not consider social behavior as a unidirectional phenomenon produced by the influence of external factors on the individual, nor does it consider that the psychological processes are exclusively of an individual nature. This perspective defends that the defining element of the psychosocial is not the individual or the collective, but the interdependence of the subjects in their relations with a common environment. This perspective is defended by Herbart and Mead.

Object of study and definition of social psychology

Social psychologists focus their interest on those phenomena based on the existence of a continuous influence and relationship between the individual and society. To explain the interdependence between the individual and society, it is necessary to take into account 3 fundamental elements:

  1. The social structure in which the interaction takes place.
  2. The links that mediate the influence of social structure on interaction.
  3. The psychological processes by which social determinants influence individuals.

Social psychology is the scientific study of the psychosocial processes involved in the genesis, development and consequence of interpersonal behavior.

Is Social Psychology Scientific?

For a branch of knowledge to acquire a scientific character, it is necessary that the obtaining of information from this branch of knowledge is produced by certain procedures, which we call methods.

To provide a scientific research, it must have 3 main characteristics:

  • Internal validity: Security that the factors that cause a phenomenon are what the researcher thinks.
  • External validity: It is possible to generalize the results of an investigation to different scenarios and populations.
  • Ecological validity: The subject acts as a product and simultaneous agent of the social context.

Types of research

One of the main issues that the researcher must solve before starting a research work is what problem he is interested in researching, as this will determine the research method he will use.

There are three different types of research:

  • Descriptive or observational: The researcher intends to provide an accurate description of a particular phenomenon (does A? Occur). It is very rare that the investigation stops at this point, since the most normal thing is to wonder why the observed phenomenon occurs.
  • Correlational: The researcher intends to describe to what extent the variations in a particular behavior are related to the variations in another behavior (does it relate A to B?). The causes of a correlational investigation can not be determined, since their results do not allow us to know whether “A” leads to “B”, or if “B” leads to “A”.
  • Experimental or causal: The purpose of an experiment is to see if changes occur in a phenomenon, by modifying some characteristic of the environment in which that phenomenon occurs (if change B, will there be changes in A?). In this way, the researcher can discover whether “A” increases, decreases, or stays stable when we manipulate “B”.

Problems in experimentation in social psychology

Two large dimensions can be distinguished:

  1. A first ethical dimension in which there is a concern for the physical or psychological damage that can be caused to the subject through the application of certain experimental treatments.
  2. A second dimension that questions the validity of the results obtained by the experimental methodology.

The procedure necessary to achieve experimental control produces numerous effects that compromise the validity and usefulness of the experimental method. Among these effects we can find the following:

Reactive Nature of Experimentation: Subjects often realize that they are experimenting with them and for that reason, they may modify their “normal” behavior, trying to do what the experimenter wants to do, or do otherwise as rejection Manipulation to which they are subjected. This problem can be largely solved by observing subjects in natural environments.

Universality of the experimental results: The individuals that the researcher is going to study are selected by some technique that can affect the probability of generalizing the results if it favors the inclusion of one type of subjects and the exclusion of others. Although there are refined selection techniques, the truth is that on most occasion’s subjects that can be obtained more easily are selected, such as university students, which does not ensure that they are the most representative for the subject that is intended study.

Rosenthal Effect: He argues that researchers’ expectations or hypotheses may be involuntarily communicated to experimental subjects, which seriously reduces the validity of the experimental findings.

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