The act of assigning a characteristic, quality, or explanation to something.
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. This subfield of psychology is concerned with the way such feelings, thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and goals are constructed, and how these psychological factors, in turn, influence our interactions with others.
Focus of Social Psychology
Social psychology typically explains human behavior as a result of the interaction of mental states and immediate social situations. Social psychologists, therefore, examine the factors that lead us to behave in a given way in the presence of others, as well as the conditions under which certain behaviors, actions, and feelings occur. They focus on how people construe or interpret situations and how these interpretations influence their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). Thus, social psychology studies individuals in a social context and how situational variables interact to influence behavior.
Social psychologists assert that an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are very much influenced by social situations. Essentially, people will change their behavior to align with the social situation at hand. If we are in a new situation or are unsure how to behave, we will take our cues from other individuals.
The field of social psychology studies topics at both the intrapersonal level (pertaining to the individual), such as emotions and attitudes, and the interpersonal level (pertaining to groups), such as aggression and attraction. The field is also concerned with common cognitive biases—such as the fundamental attribution error, the actor-observer bias, the self-serving bias, and the just-world hypothesis—that influence our behavior and our perceptions of events.
The discipline of social psychology began in the United States in the early 20th century. The first published study in this area was an experiment in 1898 by Norman Triplett on the phenomenon of social facilitation. During the 1930s, Gestalt psychologists such as Kurt Lewin were instrumental in developing the field as something separate from the behavioral and psychoanalytic schools that were dominant during that time.
During World War II, social psychologists studied the concepts of persuasion and propaganda for the U.S. military. After the war, researchers became interested in a variety of social problems including gender issues, racial prejudice, cognitive dissonance, bystander intervention, aggression, and obedience to authority. During the years immediately following World War II there was frequent collaboration between psychologists and sociologists; however, the two disciplines have become increasingly specialized and isolated from each other in recent years, with sociologists focusing more on macro-level variables (such as social structure).