Social psychology (sociology)

Social psychology (sociology)

Sociological social psychology, also known as psychological sociology, is a specialty area of sociology that relates macrosocial phenomena (e.g. social class) to the attitudes and behavior of individuals. [House, J. S. (1977). The three faces of social psychology. "Sociometry", "40", 161-177.] It is closely aligned with the study of symbolic interactionism. Much of the work in this area could be described as "sociological miniaturism." That is, the attempt to understand how large-scale societies work by the careful study of behavior in groups. [cite journal|title=Sociological miniaturism: seeing the big through the small in social psychology|author=Stolte, John F; Fine, Gary Alan; Cook, Karen S.|journal=Annual Review of Sociology|volume=vol. 27|pages= pp. 387–413|date= 2001|doi=10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.387] Of special concern to psychological sociologists is how to explain a variety of demographic, social, and cultural facts in terms of human social interaction. Some of the major topics in this field are social inequality, group dynamics, social change, socialization, and social identity.


The discipline of social psychology began at the start of the twentieth century. A list of landmark moments would have to include the publication of Charles Horton Cooley's "Human Nature and Social Order" in 1902. Cooley's effort sought to explain the social order by use of the concept of a looking glass self, and to explain the notion of the self as essentially the same as the notion of "society".cite book|title=Social Psychology|author=Michener, H. Andrew, John D. DeLamater, and Daniel J. Myers|edition=Fifth edition|date=2004|publisher=Wadsworth|location=Canada|pages=pp. 22; 10-11]

The first textbooks in social psychology would be published six years later by E. A. Ross and William McDougall. [Ross, Edward Alsworth (1908). [ "Social psychology: an outline and source book,"] MacMillan, 1908.] The former approached the topic from a sociological standpoint, and the latter from a psychological one. The first major journal in social psychology would be the "Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology" in 1922 (later "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology").

McDougall himself did not have a grand vision for social psychology, and by default regarded it as a subfield of psychology (albeit an eminently useful one). [cite book|title=Introduction to Social Psychology|author=William McDougall|edition=Fourteenth Edition|pages= pp. 5|date=2001|publisher=Batoche Books|location=Kitchener, ON] For a period during the early- to mid-twentieth century, social psychology was conceived as an interdisciplinary effort, capable of addressing those issues which psychologists and sociologists had in common. However, the tide turned sharply against these interdisciplinarians, as many of those research bodies which had attempted to find common intellectual ground broke down under the strain of various academic pressures. As a result, social psychology was bifurcated into two traditions: those allied with psychology who sought to explain how the minds of individuals are influenced by social factors, and those allied with sociology who understood human action as being embedded in (and determined largely by) a rich network of human relationships.

Today, for better or worse, the sociological and psychological traditions of social psychology maintain relatively little contact with one another. Sociological social psychologists tend to publish in "Social Psychology Quarterly" (formerly "Sociometry"), while psychological social psychologists publish elsewhere. Also, sociological social psychologists usually are members of the social psychology section of the American Sociological Association (ASA), while psychological social psychologists belong to other organizations.

A fair body of fruitful research exists in sociological social psychology. The great emphasis many American psychological social psychologists have placed on intraindividual processes has distinguished them from many non-U.S. social psychologists. In many areas, sociological social psychologists have demonstrated greater collaboration and complementary theoretical interests with psychological social psychologists in other English speaking countries.

In subject matter, sociological social psychology continues to draw upon neighboring social sciences like psychological social psychology and micro-economics, as well as upon social philosophy, while maintaining its own approaches to investigation.

Traditional schools

There are three major traditions in sociological social psychology: symbolic interactionism, social cognition, and social exchange theory. [cite journal|title=Social psychological theories on social inequalities|author=Hollander, Jocelyn A; Howard, Judith A.|journal=Social Psychology Quarterly|volume=vol. 63|issue=no. 4|pages=pp. 338–51|date= Dec 2000|doi=10.2307/2695844] Although they are not mutually exclusive, these traditions have tended to provide the main theoretical orientations by which scientists have treated social research.

ymbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionism (or SI) is a sociological tradition originating out of the ideas of George Herbert Mead and Max Weber. The symbolic interactionists emphasize that human life is governed by meaningful interactions between persons. There are two major schools of SI: "Structural SI" and "Process SI". Structural SI uses shared social knowledge from a macro-level (i.e., at the level of the organization and institution) to explain relatively static patterns of social interaction and psychology at the micro-level. Structural SI researchers tend to use quantitative methods. Identity Theory [cite journal|author=Stryker, S., & Burke, P. J.|date=2000|title= The past, present, and future of an identity theory|journal=Social Psychology Quarterly|issue=63|pages=284–297] and Affect Control Theory [cite journal|author=Heise, D. R.|date=1979|title=Understanding Events: Affect and the Construction of Social Action|location=New York|publisher=Cambridge University Press] grew out of this tradition. By contrast, Process SI stems from the Second Chicago School and views social interactions to be constant flux, studying it without reference to a larger social structure. Process SI researchers tend to use qualitative and ethnographic methods.

Social exchange

Social exchange theory emphasizes the idea that social action is the result of "personal choices" made by considering relative benefits and costs. The theory of social exchange predicts that people will make choices with the intention of maximizing benefits. A key component of this theory is the postulation of the "comparison level of alternatives", which is the actor's sense of the best possible alternative (i.e., the choice with the highest benefits relative to costs).

In this sense, theories of social exchange share many essential features with classical economic theories like rational choice theory. However, social exchange theories differ from economic theories by making predictions about the relationships between persons, and not just the evaluation of goods. For example, social exchange theories have been used to predict human behavior in romantic relationships by taking into account each actor's subjective sense of costs (i.e., volatility, economic dependence), benefits (i.e., attraction, chemistry, attachment), and comparison level of alternatives (i.e., if any viable alternative mates are available).

Major theories and concepts

Social inequality

The "dependency theory of power", as it was first formulated by Richard Emerson, is one offshoot of social exchange theory. It postulated that the power-relationships between individuals could be measured according to the differing needs and goods of the actors involved: if one actor (A) needed the goods of another actor (B) more than B needed those of A, then B would have comparably more social power. However, later developments have allowed dependency theory to address topics in social cognition, social exchange, and symbolic interaction by examining dependency based on the threat of punishment. [cite journal|author=Linda Molm|title=The structure and use of power: a comparison of reward and punishment power|journal=Social Psychology Quarterly|date=1988 ]

Social structure

The term social structure refers to entities or groups in definite relation to each other, to relatively enduring patterns of behaviour and relationships within social systems, or to social institutions and norms becoming embedded into social systems in such a way that they shape the behaviour of actors within those social systems.

Social structure underlies many social systems including family, religion, race, gender, and social class. Social structures supply roles and norms that influence human interactions. One example is role theory, which examines as the distinct, functional positions of persons within a group.

Self and identity

The study of personal and social identity is another topic which has piqued the interest of sociological social psychologists.

Much of the research on identity has been influenced by the theoretical work of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Erikson is credited with the distinction between ego identity, personal identity, and social identity, as well as for creating a model of the development of the individual. One example of Erikson's influence can be found in the work of the neo-Eriksonian research of James Marcia, who elaborated on theoretical issues concerning the identity crisis.

Another major strain of research has fallen from the work of the Chicago School symbolic interactionists, such as George Herbert Mead. As the literature grew, methods and theoretical frameworks diverged from the traditional views. For example, the Iowa School of symbolic interactionism emphasized the use of quantitative methods and made use of the language of "structures", in contrast with the more qualitatively-oriented Chicago School. The Iowa school inspired a number of outgrowths, such as the work of McCall and Simmons on social roles, and subsequently, Stryker's structural theory of social identity.

More radical perspectives have arisen from postmodern thinkers like Kenneth Gergen, who understand the notions of self and identity to be increasingly fragmented and illusory.


There have been a number of different theories which have tried to explain how people learn things from others. Reinforcement theory, growing out of the tradition of behaviorism, sought to explain human social learning as the product of conditioning. Social learning theory (SLT) stands in contrast to reinforcement theory. Social learning theory attempts to explain human socialization as a product of "observation and mimicry". [Bandura, Albert (1977). [ "Social Learning Theory,"] Prentice Hall, 1977. ISBN:0138167443.]


Further reading


ee also

* Behavioral economics
* Community psychology
* Computational sociology
* Crowd psychology
* Educational psychology
* Human ecology
* Industrial psychology
* Legal psychology
* List of social psychologists
* Important publications in social psychology
* Moral development
* Political psychology
* Relational disorder (proposed DSM-V new diagnosis)
* Social engineering
* Sociobiology
* Social psychology (discipline within psychology)
* Symbolic interactionism

External links

* [ Social Psychology Network]
* [ Society for Personality and Social Psychology]
* [ Society of Experimental Social Psychology]
* [ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology]
* [ Current Research in Social Psychology]
* [ Social Psychology - brief introduction]
* [ Social Psychology basics]
* [ Social Psychology forum]
* [ Scapegoating Processes in Groups]
* [ Introduction to Social Psychology]
* [ PsychWiki]

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