In this lesson, you will explore the subfield of psychology called social psychology and examine the goals and methods of research. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Don’t Mind Me!

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Or maybe you had an imaginary friend? Or maybe, when you listen to an online video lecture, you develop a sense of connection. Hey, how ya doin’?

People’s behavior changes when they are around other people. The study of the mind and behavior is called psychology. When this becomes a study of how behavior is affected by the presence of other people, it is called social psychology. Social psychologists examine how social influences can change our thoughts or behavior. For example, I sing in the car when I’m alone, but when other cars pull up next to me I stop dancing to the music. And if I see a police car, I generally sit up straighter with both hands firmly on the wheel and don’t sing at all. Sometimes, even the implied or assumed presence of other people can change behavior, like when you stop at a red light even when no one is around, just in case. This is social psychology.

Internal and External Influences

The first aspect of social psychology is the way that an individual forms their own behavior in response to social situations, or intrapersonal analysis. Social psychologists use intrapersonal analysis to examine things like your attitude, your likes and dislikes, your ability to talk yourself into a certain position and your self-awareness. Each of these is greatly influenced by your awareness of other people and the social pressures you may feel.

On the flip side is interpersonal analysis, or the way that people influence each other. In this area of study, researchers may examine things like social influences, conformity, obedience, group dynamics, attraction and the relationships between people. For the most part, this field of research is defined by the direct ways that people interact with each other. ‘Inter,’ as in ‘interpersonal,’ means ‘to be in between.’ So, interpersonal relationships are the relationships between people.

Social Psychology Research

Psychology, in general, uses a variety of research methods from both the humanities and sciences. Social psychology is more specific in its focus, using empirical science, or science composed of hypotheses that can be tested to produce quantifiable data. Social psychologists are careful to design their experiments and conduct their research in the most non-biased way possible, very often using statistics to analyze the data for major trends.

One of the most common forms of research is with experiments that slightly alter a single variable to test for a change in behavior. One example would be letting children play without technology and seeing how they interact, then letting them use technology and see if their behaviors and relationships change. In this case, technology is the variable being tested.

In this example, the social psychologists test a variable with observation. They watch the children and observe trends. Some studies need to be done in a lab, where outside forces can be controlled. Other experiments are best performed in a natural environment, where people can interact more freely. However, not all experiments are observation-based. Some rely on surveys and other techniques where individuals can provide the data through their thoughts and opinions. These answers are later analyzed for statistical trends. While there are many fascinating aspects of human social behavior that social psychologists can test, they also need to be careful. We are talking about real people, not just lab rats, so it’s always important for the researcher to respect an ethical boundary where the subject’s rights and mental health are never at risk.

Lesson Summary

The study of the mind and human behavior is a field called psychology. An important subfield of this is social psychology, the study of how behavior is influenced by other people. Social psychologists are interested in how the thoughts and behaviors of people change when they are aware of other people, or even when individuals assume they are being watched.

A social psychologist with an intrapersonal focus analyzes how an individual alters their own behavior in response to outside pressures. The flipside is the interpersonal analysis, focused on the relationships between people, and group behavior.

Social psychologists use empirical science, or research designed to test a hypothesis and produce quantifiable data. Some social psychologists observe test subjects in a lab, where the number of variables can be controlled. Other experiments rely on more natural settings, and others use methods like surveys instead of direct observation. Social psychologists deal directly with real people, so they always have to be careful to treat the subjects with respect. So, keep singing in the car or shower or wherever you feel the most comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just social psychology.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson is over, you should be able to:

  • Define social psychology
  • Describe the differences between intrapersonal and interpersonal analysis
  • Identify the use of empirical science to research and test social psychological hypotheses