Social Psychology, what is it?

Social Psychology, what is it?

Have you ever wondered why we behave differently when we are before a group of people? Or what makes some people better leaders than others? Majority decisions in politics, problematic behaviors such as bullying or intergroup prejudices and even marketing and mass fashions that make us buy products that everyone else uses. All these questions and many more are studied by a very interesting branch of Psychology: Social psychology.


  • 1 What is social psychology?
  • 2 Bases of Social Psychology
  • 3 Some key theories in Social Psychology

What is social psychology?

Social psychology is the discipline that is responsible for studying the influences that people, groups and contexts exert on the behavior of the individual, as well as in their cognitions and perceptions. This is the scientific study of how our behaviors, emotions and thoughts are influenced by the people around us, even if we are not in their presence.

Thus, social psychologists often explain human behavior as the result of a mixture of internal cognitions and social situations from a scientific perspective, based on experimentation and research.

Bases of Social Psychology

Social psychology is based on the study of humans as social beings, whose objectives are oriented to the satisfaction of these needs: the creation of links with others, the search for compression, support and intimate relationships. Social desirability and the need for intimacy with others is key to people's health and the behaviors that focus on it are studied by this discipline.

Without observing the context, we cannot understand the human being: why he behaves and thinks so. From here, social psychology analyzes how people form their self-concept based on social situations, how they invest time and effort in them and how they categorize others based on their behavior in a given context.

Some key theories in Social Psychology

Social psychology has thrown numerous discoveries very important in the last decades thanks to the investigations developed. Some of these results have given rise to theories that today are very important not only for social psychology, but for psychological discipline in general.

Bandura's Social Learning Theory

One of these theories that marked this field of study was Bandura's Theory of Social Learning. According to this theory, people learn through the observation of other models. It is a theory that is based on the ideas of instrumental conditioning, taking as a basis that people perform one or other behaviors through the search for reinforcement or the avoidance of a negative consequence. However, Bandura goes further by stating that this learning occurs not only when we have been exposed to these consequences, but also when we see others receive them.

For example, in the Bandura experiment, it was observed that children who saw images of an adult who was rewarded after being aggressive with a doll were more likely to copy this behavior believing they would get a reward.

The Theory of Social Facilitation of Allport

The theory of Allport social facilitation It is based on the influence of the presence of others when performing a task, when it is simple, the presence of others improves performance, but when it is difficult, it decreases due to the effect of social inhibition

Social facilitation is one of the first effects discovered by experimental social psychology. Already in 1898 the psychologist Norman Triplett determined the change in the behavior of individuals in the face of individual and collective situations. His most popular experiment was the cycling race. With this experiment, he showed that the individuals traveled the track at a speed of 30km / h, if they drove alone. However, when the cyclist was next to a group of them he increased his speed to 40km / h.

According to social psychologist Robret Zajonc, the presence of other people increases incitement, which reinforces the dominant response to a stimulus. In a simple task the dominant response is usually correct, so the presence of others improves performance. In a difficult task, the dominant response is usually incorrect, so the presence of others impairs performance.

The Halo Effect

There are other important theories such as the Halo Effect, an effect according to which we categorize people in a certain way according to a specific characteristic. For example, it has been studied how the most attractive people are usually perceived as better people, more kind and intelligent, whether or not this corresponds to reality.

Tajfel's Social Identity Theory

Another important theory is the Tajfel Social Identity Theory. According to this, people need to feel part of a group identity and we tend to benefit the group to which we belong and to prejudice the other groups by the simple fact that they are alien to us.

A very popular study was the Haney, Banks and Zimbardo prison experiment in 1973. In this investigation, several volunteers were divided into two roles that corresponded to a simulation. Some were the prisoners and others the guardians of a prison. This experiment was very controversial because it made a dent in the loss of ethics and human respect. During the investigation, those who had assumed the role of guardians had adopted a hostile and dehumanized attitude towards prisoners whose attitude had become passive. This showed that identity towards a group or a certain role influenced the behavior of individuals who did not show these attitudes previously.

Social psychology is a science that advances revealing very important data for the study of human behavior and society in general. The influence of the context is decisive in our lives and thanks to this discipline, we can get a little closer to the keys to human interactions. Since Psychoactive We will continue supporting the progress of science and informing of all the news.


Alcover, C. Gil, F. (1999) Introduction to group psychology. Ed. Pyramid

Bottle. M., Doménech. M., Feliu. J., Martínez. L., Pallí. C., Pujal. M. and Tirado. F. (2004). Introduction to social psychology. Spain: UOC.

Estramiana J.L. (nineteen ninety five). Social psychology: theoretical and methodological perspectives. Spain: Twenty-first century.

Triplett, N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. American Journal of Psychology, 9, 507-533.

Zajonc, R. B. (1965). Social facilitation Science, 149, 269-274