Social Psychology

Social Psychology

Social Psychology is the scientific study of how a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour are influenced by the actual or imaginary presence of others.

It is different from common sense in that common sense teaches that everything is true, some of the time (there are quotes for “a” and “not a” (“too many cooks spoil the broth” vs “many hands make light work”). With this in mind, psychology asks when and why is something true?

Aims to Know

Social Psychology explains the world with Affective States, Behaviour and Cognition, and aims to understand what/when/why people do things.

  • Affective States: Thoughts and Feelings
  • Behaviour: Actions
  • Cognition: Thought Processes

What we Study

Study Example

Social isolation can lead to psychological distress when accompanied by loneliness.

Example: Schacter (1985) put 5 patients in windowless rooms and asked them to stay as long as they liked. The participants left after 2 hours (1), 2 days (3) and 8 days (1).

How is this determined?

Studying a mix of patients who have had normal social lives vs those who have been socially isolated finds that the latter suffer from:

  • Increased risk of heart attacks
  • Lower recovery rates from cancer
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Higher Alzheimer's risk

Methods of Research


Descriptive studies analyse the unmetered thoughts and feelings in a natural environment. They are useful in determining correlation between variables

Naturalistic Observation

These take place in an everyday setting and involve describing the reactions noted in others.

E.g. Taking 5-second audio-recordings of participants throughout the day to note percentage of serious vs light conversation at certain times.

Archival Studies

Archival studies take a data corpus and analyse it for trends.

e.g. Facebook tagging posts as 'happy' or 'sad' and concluding that Monday is 10% sadder than Friday.


Surveys involve participants reporting information on a set of questions.

E.g. "What do you do on your laptop in a lecture?"


Experimental studies manipulate a social situation by controlling certain variables, and then watching the outcome.


Natural environment, participants often don't know they are being tested.

E.g. Milgram, Bickman and Berkowitz (1969) measured the percentage of people who imitated a crowd of different sizes (influence of crowd-size).

They found that 4% would fully imitate 1 person, whereas 40-50% would half-imitate 1 person. ~50% would imitate 15 people, and ~86% would partially imitate 15 people.


Controlled context, easy for accurate manipulation of variables. (Participant may be acting slightly unnaturally, as they are aware they are being tested).

Person vs Situation Interaction

Features or characteristics that individuals carry into social situations
The environment or circumstances outside the person

Things to be aware of and account for in studying person-situation interaction:

  1. People respond to situations differently
  2. Situations draw a certain type of people (e.g. basketball draws tall people)
  3. People choose situations they like (as a general rule)
  4. Different situations bring out different parts of a person (e.g. with friends vs lecturer)
  5. People influence/change the situation (e.g. parties are different with different people)
  6. Situations influence/change the person (e.g. university teaches us - changes us)