Social psychology

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Social psychology is the scientific study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the presence of others and the internalized social norms that humans are influenced by, even when alone.[1] Social psychologists typically explain human behavior as a result of the relationship between mental state and social situation, studying the social conditions under which thoughts, feelings, and behaviors occur and how these variables influence social interactions.


Although issues in social psychology had been discussed in philosophy for much of human history,[2] the scientific discipline of social psychology formally began in the late 19th to early 20th century.[3]

19th century[edit]

In the 19th century, social psychology began to emerge from the larger field of psychology. At the time, many psychologists were concerned with developing concrete explanations for the different aspects of human nature. They attempted to discover concrete cause-and-effect relationships that explained social interactions. In order to do so, they applied the scientific method to human behavior.[4] The first published study in the field was Norman Triplett's 1898 experiment on the phenomenon of social facilitation.[5] These psychological experiments later went on to form the foundation of much of 20th century social psychological findings.

Early 20th century[edit]

During World War II, social psychologists were mostly concerned with studies of persuasion and propaganda for the U.S. military (see also psychological warfare). Following the war, researchers became interested in a variety of social problems, including issues of gender and racial prejudice. During the years immediately following World War II, there were frequent collaborations between psychologists and sociologists. The two disciplines, however, have become increasingly specialized and isolated from each other in recent years, with sociologists generally focusing on macro features (i.e., high-level, large-scale examination of society), whereas psychologists generally focusing on more micro features (i.e., small-scale study of individual human behavior).[6]

Late 20th century and modernity[edit]

In the 1960s, there was growing interest in topics such as cognitive dissonance, bystander intervention, and aggression. In the 1970s, a number of conceptual challenges to social psychology emerged over issues, such as ethical concerns about laboratory experimentation, whether attitudes could accurately predict behavior, and how much science could be done in a cultural context.[7] This was also a time when situationism—the theory that human behavior changes based on situational factors—emerged and challenged the relevance of self and personality in psychology.[8]

By the 1980s and 1990s, social psychology had developed a number of solutions to these issues with regard to theory and methodology.[8] At present, ethical standards regulate research, and pluralistic and multicultural perspectives to the social sciences have emerged. Most modern researchers in the 21st century are interested in phenomena such as attribution, social cognition, and self-concept.[9] Social psychologists are, in addition, concerned with applied psychology, contributing towards applications of social psychology in health, education, law, and the workplace.[10]

Intrapersonal phenomena[edit]


In social psychology, an attitude is a learned, global evaluation that influences thought and action.[11][page needed] Attitudes are basic expressions of approval and disapproval or likes and dislikes. For example, enjoying chocolate ice cream or endorsing the values of a particular political party are examples of attitudes.[12] Because people are influenced by multiple factors in any given situation, general attitudes are not always good predictors of specific behavior. For example, a person may generally value the environment but may not recycle a plastic bottle because of specific factors on a given day.

Research on attitudes has examined the distinction between traditional, self-reported attitudes and implicit, unconscious attitudes. Experiments using the Implicit Association Test (IAT), for instance, have found that people often demonstrate implicit bias against other races, even when their explicit responses profess impartiality.[13] Likewise, one study found that in interracial interactions, explicit attitudes correlate with verbal behavior, while implicit attitudes correlate with nonverbal behavior.[14]

One hypothesis on how attitudes are formed, first proposed in 1983 by Abraham Tesser, is that strong likes and dislikes are ingrained in our genetic makeup. Tesser speculated that individuals are disposed to hold certain strong attitudes as a result of inborn personality traits and physical, sensory, and cognitive skills. Attitudes are also formed as a result of exposure to different experiences, environments, and the learning process. Numerous studies have shown that people can form strong attitudes toward neutral objects that are in some way linked to emotionally charged stimuli.[clarification needed][15]: 185–186 

Attitudes are also involved in several other areas of the discipline, such as conformity, interpersonal attraction, social perception, and prejudice.[16]


Persuasion is an active method of influencing that attempts to guide people toward the adoption of an attitude, idea, or behavior by rational or emotive means. Persuasion relies on appeals rather than strong pressure or coercion. The process of persuasion has been found to be influenced by numerous variables that generally fall into one of five major categories:[17]

  1. Communicator: includes credibility, expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness.
  2. Message: includes varying degrees of reason, emotion (e.g., fear), one-sided or two-sided arguments, and other types of informational content.
  3. Audience: includes a variety of demographics, personality traits, and preferences.
  4. Medium: includes printed word, radio, television, the internet, or face-to-face interactions.
  5. Context: includes environment, group dynamics, and preliminary information.

Dual-process theories of persuasion (such as the elaboration likelihood model) maintain that persuasion is mediated by two separate routes: central and peripheral. The central route of persuasion is more fact-based and results in longer-lasting change, but requires motivation to process. The peripheral route is more superficial and results in shorter-lasting change, but does not require as much motivation to process. An example of peripheral persuasion is a politician using a flag lapel pin, smiling, and wearing a crisp, clean shirt. These behaviors do not require motivation to be persuasive, but would not last as long as central persuasion. If that politician were to outline what they believe and their previous voting record, he or she would be centrally persuasive, which would result in longer-lasting change. However, this would require greater motivation.[18]

Social cognition[edit]

Social cognition studies how people perceive, think about, and remember information about others.[19] Much research rests on the assertion that people think about other people differently than they do non-social, or non-human, targets.[20] This assertion is supported by the social-cognitive deficits exhibited by people with Williams syndrome and autism.[21] Person perception is the study of how people form impressions of others. The study of how people form beliefs about each other while interacting is interpersonal perception.

A major research topic in social cognition is attribution.[22] Attributions are how we explain people's behavior, either our own behavior or the behavior of others. One element of attribution ascribes the cause of behavior to internal and external factors. An internal, or dispositional, attribution reasons that behavior is caused by inner traits such as personality, disposition, character, and ability. An external, or situational, attribution reasons that behavior is caused by situational elements such as the weather.[23]: 111  A second element of attribution ascribes the cause of behavior to stable and unstable factors (i.e., whether the behavior will be repeated or changed under similar circumstances). Individuals also attribute causes of behavior to controllable and uncontrollable factors (i.e., how much control one has over the situation at hand).

Numerous biases in the attribution process have been discovered. For instance, the fundamental attribution error is the tendency to make dispositional attributions for behavior, overestimating the influence of personality and underestimating the influence of the situational.[24]: 724  The actor-observer bias is a refinement of this; it is the tendency to make dispositional attributions for other people's behavior and situational attributions for one's own.[23]: 107  The self-serving bias is the tendency to attribute dispositional causes for successes, and situational causes for failure, particularly when self-esteem is threatened. This leads to assuming one's successes are from innate traits, and one's failures are due to situations.[23]: 109  Other ways people protect their self-esteem are by believing in a just world, blaming victims for their suffering, and making defensive attributions that explain their behavior in ways that defend them from feelings of vulnerability and mortality.[23]: 111  Researchers have found that mildly depressed individuals often lack this bias and actually have more realistic perceptions of reality as measured by the opinions of others.[25]


Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts. Instead of weighing all the evidence when making a decision, people rely on heuristics to save time and energy. The availability heuristic occurs when people estimate the probability of an outcome based on how easy that outcome is to imagine. As such, vivid or highly memorable possibilities will be perceived as more likely than those that are harder to picture or difficult to understand, resulting in a corresponding cognitive bias.[contradictory] The representativeness heuristic is a shortcut people use to categorize something based on how similar it is to a prototype they know of.[23]: 63  Numerous other biases have been found by social cognition researchers. The hindsight bias is a false memory of having predicted events, or an exaggeration of actual predictions, after becoming aware of the outcome. The confirmation bias is a type of bias leading to the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.[26]


Another key concept in social cognition is the assumption that reality is too complex to easily discern. As a result, we tend to see the world according to simplified schemas or images of reality. Schemas are generalized mental representations that organize knowledge and guide information processing. Schemas often operate automatically and unintentionally and can lead to biases in perception and memory. Schemas may induce expectations that lead us to see something that is not there. One experiment found that people are more likely to misperceive a weapon in the hands of a black man than a white man.[27] This type of schema is a stereotype, a generalized set of beliefs about a particular group of people (when incorrect, an ultimate attribution error). Stereotypes are often related to negative or preferential attitudes (prejudice) and behavior (discrimination). Schemas for behaviors (e.g., going to a restaurant, doing laundry) are known as scripts.[28]


Self-concept is the whole sum of beliefs that people have about themselves. The self-concept is made up of cognitive aspects called self-schemas—beliefs that people have about themselves and that guide the processing of self-referential information.[29] For example, an athlete at a university would have multiple selves that would process different information pertinent to each self: the student would be oneself, who would process information pertinent to a student (taking notes in class, completing a homework assignment, etc.); the athlete would be the self who processes information about things related to being an athlete (recognizing an incoming pass, aiming a shot, etc.). These selves are part of one's identity and the self-referential information is that which relies on the appropriate self to process and react to it. If a self is not part of one's identity, then it is much more difficult for one to react. For example, a civilian may not know how to handle a hostile threat as well as a trained Marine would. The Marine contains a self that would enable him/her to process the information about the hostile threat and react accordingly, whereas a civilian may not contain that self, lessening the civilian's ability to properly assess the threat and act accordingly.

The self-concept comprises multiple self-schemas. For example, people whose body image is a significant self-concept aspect are considered schematics with respect to weight. In contrast, people who do not regard their weight as an important part of their lives are aschematic with respect to that attribute. For individuals, a range of otherwise mundane events—grocery shopping, new clothes, eating out, or going to the beach—can trigger thoughts about the self.[29]

The self is a special object of our attention. Whether one is mentally focused on a memory, a conversation, a foul smell, the song that is stuck in one's head, or this sentence, consciousness is like a spotlight. This spotlight can shine on only one object at a time, but it can switch rapidly from one object to another. In this spotlight the self is front and center: things relating to the self have the spotlight more often.[30]

The ABCs of self are:[15]: 53 

  • Affect (i.e., emotion): How do people evaluate themselves, enhance their self-image, and maintain a secure sense of identity?
  • Behavior: How do people regulate their own actions and present themselves to others according to interpersonal demands?
  • Cognition: How do individuals become themselves, build a self-concept, and uphold a stable sense of identity?

Affective forecasting is the process of predicting how one would feel in response to future emotional events. Studies done in 2003 by Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert have shown that people overestimate the strength of their reactions to anticipated positive and negative life events.[31]

There are many theories on the perception of our own behavior. Leon Festinger's 1954 social comparison theory posits that people evaluate their own abilities and opinions by comparing themselves to others when they are uncertain of their own ability or opinions.[32] Daryl Bem's 1972 self-perception theory claims that when internal cues are difficult to interpret, people gain self-insight by observing their own behavior.[33] There is also the facial feedback hypothesis: changes in facial expression can lead to corresponding changes in emotion.[15]: 56 

The self-concept is often divided into a cognitive component, known as the self-schema, and an evaluative component, the self-esteem. The need to maintain a healthy self-esteem is recognized as a central human motivation.[34]

Self-efficacy beliefs are associated with the self-schema. These beliefs are expectations that performance on some task will be effective and successful. Social psychologists also study self-related processes such as self-control and self-presentation.[35]

People develop their self-concepts by various means, including introspection, feedback from others, self-perception, and social comparison. By comparing themselves to others, people gain information about themselves, and they make inferences that are relevant to self-esteem. Social comparisons can be either upward or downward, that is, comparisons to people who are either higher or lower in status or ability.[36] Downward comparisons are often made in order to elevate self-esteem.[37]

Self-perception is a specialized form of attribution that involves making inferences about oneself after observing one's own behavior. Psychologists have found that too many extrinsic rewards (e.g., money) tend to reduce intrinsic motivation through the self-perception process, a phenomenon known as overjustification. People's attention is directed to the reward, and they lose interest in the task when the reward is no longer offered.[38] This is an important exception to reinforcement theory, which posits that behaviors are formed based on their consequences and can be manipulated through positive (e.g., rewards) or negative (e.g., removal of something negative) reinforcement, punishment, and extinction (e.g., completely removing something to reduce a behavior).

Interpersonal phenomena[edit]

Social influence[edit]

Social influence is an overarching term that denotes the persuasive effects people have on each other. It is seen as a fundamental value in social psychology. The study of it overlaps considerably with research on attitudes and persuasion. The three main areas of social influence include conformity, compliance, and obedience. Social influence is also closely related to the study of group dynamics, as most effects of influence are strongest when they take place in social groups.

The first major area of social influence is conformity. Conformity is defined as the tendency to act or think like other members of a group. The identity of members within a group (i.e., status), similarity, expertise, as well as cohesion, prior commitment, and accountability to the group help to determine the level of conformity of an individual. Individual variations among group members play a key role in the dynamic of how willing people will be to conform.[39]: 27  Conformity is usually viewed as a negative tendency in American culture, but a certain amount of conformity is adaptive in some situations, as is nonconformity in other situations.[39]: 15 

Which line matches the first line, A, B, or C? In the Asch conformity experiments, people frequently followed the majority judgment, even when the majority was objectively wrong.

The second major area of social influence research is compliance, which refers to any change in behavior that is due to a request or suggestion from another person. The foot-in-the-door technique is a compliance method in which the persuader requests a small favor and then follows up with a larger favor (e.g., asking for the time and then asking for ten dollars. A related trick is the bait and switch, which is a disingenuous sales strategy that involves enticing potential customers with advertisements of low-priced items which turn out to be unavailable in order to sell a more expensive item.[40]

The third major form of social influence is obedience; this is a change in behavior that is the result of a direct order or command from another person. Obedience as a form of compliance was dramatically highlighted by the Milgram study, wherein people were ready to administer shocks to a person in distress on a researcher's command.[39]: 41 

An unusual kind of social influence is the self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a prediction that, by being made, causes itself to become true. For example, in the stock market, if it is widely believed that a crash is imminent, investors may lose confidence, sell most of their stock, and thus cause a crash. Similarly, people may expect hostility in others and induce this hostility by their own behavior.[23]: 18 

Psychologists have spent decades studying the power of social influence, and the way in which it manipulates people's opinions and behavior. Specifically, social influence refers to the way in which individuals change their ideas and actions to meet the demands of a social group, received authority, social role, or a minority within a group wielding influence over the majority.[41]

Group dynamics[edit]

A group can be defined as two or more individuals who are connected to each other by social relationships.[42] Groups tend to interact, influence each other, and share a common identity. They have a number of emergent qualities that distinguish them from coincidental, temporary gatherings, which are termed social aggregates:[42]

  • Norms: Implicit rules and expectations for group members to follow (e.g. saying thank you, shaking hands).
  • Roles: Implicit rules and expectations for specific members within the group (e.g., the oldest sibling, who may have additional responsibilities in the family).
  • Relations: Patterns of liking within the group, and also differences in prestige or status (e.g., leaders, popular people).

Temporary groups and aggregates share few or none of these features and do not qualify as true social groups. People waiting in line to get on a bus, for example, do not constitute a group.[43]

Groups are important not only because they offer social support, resources, and a feeling of belonging, but also because they supplement an individual's self-concept. To a large extent, humans define themselves by the group memberships which form their social identity. The shared social identity of individuals within a group influences intergroup behavior, which denotes the way in which groups behave towards and perceive each other. These perceptions and behaviors in turn define the social identity of individuals within the interacting groups. The tendency to define oneself by membership in a group may lead to intergroup discrimination, which involves favorable perceptions and behaviors directed towards the in-group, but negative perceptions and behaviors directed towards the out-group.[44] On the other hand, such discrimination and segregation may sometimes exist partly to facilitate a diversity that strengthens society.[45] Intergroup discrimination leads to prejudicial stereotyping, while the processes of social facilitation and group polarization encourage extreme behaviors towards the out-group.

Groups often moderate and improve decision making,[46] and are frequently relied upon for these benefits, such as in committees and juries. A number of group biases, however, can interfere with effective decision making. For example, group polarization, formerly known as the "risky shift," occurs when people polarize their views in a more extreme direction after group discussion. More problematic is the phenomenon of groupthink, which is a collective thinking defect that is characterized by a premature consensus or an incorrect assumption of consensus, caused by members of a group failing to promote views that are not consistent with the views of other members. Groupthink occurs in a variety of situations, including isolation of a group and the presence of a highly directive leader. Janis offered the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion as a historical case of groupthink.[47]

Groups also affect performance and productivity. Social facilitation, for example, is a tendency to work harder and faster in the presence of others. Social facilitation increases the dominant response's likelihood, which refers to individuals' tendency to improve performance on simple tasks and reduce it on complex tasks.[48] In contrast, social loafing is the tendency for individuals to slack off when working in a group. Social loafing is common when the task is considered unimportant and individual contributions are not easy to see.[49][unreliable source?]

Social psychologists study group-related (collective) phenomena such as the behavior of crowds. An important concept in this area is deindividuation, a reduced state of self-awareness that can be caused by feelings of anonymity. Deindividuation is associated with uninhibited and sometimes dangerous behavior. It is common in crowds and mobs, but it can also be caused by a disguise, a uniform, alcohol, dark environments, or online anonymity.[50][51]

Social psychologists study interactions within groups, and between both groups and individuals.

Interpersonal attraction[edit]

A major area of study of people's relations to each other is interpersonal attraction, which refers to all factors that lead people to like each other, establish relationships, and (in some cases) fall in love. Several general principles of attraction have been discovered by social psychologists. One of the most important factors in interpersonal attraction is how similar two particular people are. The more similar two people are in general attitudes, backgrounds, environments, worldviews, and other traits, the more likely they will be attracted to each other.[52][i]

Physical attractiveness is an important element of romantic relationships, particularly in the early stages characterized by high levels of passion. Later on, similarity and other compatibility factors become more important, and the type of love people experience shifts from passionate to companionate. In 1986, Robert Sternberg suggested that there are actually three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment.[53] When two (or more) people experience all three, they are said to be in a state of consummate love.

According to social exchange theory, relationships are based on rational choice and cost-benefit analysis. A person may leave a relationship if their partner's "costs" begin to outweigh their benefits, especially if there are good alternatives available. This theory is similar to the minimax principle proposed by mathematicians and economists (despite the fact that human relationships are not zero-sum games). With time, long-term relationships tend to become communal rather than simply based on exchange.[54]



Social psychology is an empirical science that attempts to answer questions about human behavior by testing hypotheses, both in the laboratory and in the field. Careful attention to research design, sampling, and statistical analysis is important; results are published in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Social psychology studies also appear in general science journals such as Psychological Science and Science.

Experimental methods involve the researcher altering a variable in the environment and measuring its effect on another variable. An example would be allowing two groups of children to play violent or nonviolent video games and then observing their subsequent level of aggression during the free-play period. A valid experiment is controlled and uses random assignment.

Correlational methods examine the statistical association between two naturally occurring variables. For example, one could correlate the number of violent television shows children watch at home with the number of violent incidents the children participate in at school. Note that this study would not prove that violent TV causes aggression in children: it is quite possible that aggressive children choose to watch more violent TV.

Observational methods are purely descriptive and include naturalistic observation, contrived observation, participant observation, and archival analysis. These are less common in social psychology but are sometimes used when first investigating a phenomenon. An example would be to unobtrusively observe children on a playground (with a videocamera, perhaps) and record the number and types of aggressive actions displayed.

Whenever possible, social psychologists rely on controlled experimentation, which requires the manipulation of one or more independent variables in order to examine the effect on a dependent variable. Experiments are useful in social psychology because they are high in internal validity, meaning that they are free from the influence of confounding or extraneous variables, and so are more likely to accurately indicate a causal relationship. However, the small samples used in controlled experiments are typically low in external validity, or the degree to which the results can be generalized to the larger population. There is usually a trade-off between experimental control (internal validity) and being able to generalize to the population (external validity).

Because it is usually impossible to test everyone, research tends to be conducted on a sample of persons from the wider population. Social psychologists frequently use survey research when they are interested in results that are high in external validity. Surveys use various forms of random sampling to obtain a sample of respondents that is representative of a population. This type of research is usually descriptive or correlational because there is no experimental control over variables. Some psychologists have raised concerns for social psychological research relying too heavily on studies conducted on university undergraduates in academic settings,[55][56] or participants from crowdsourcing labor markets such as Amazon Mechanical Turk.[57][58] In a 1986 study by David O. Sears,[56] over 70% of experiments used North American undergraduates as subjects, a subset of the population that is unrepresentative of the population as a whole.[55]

Regardless of which method has been chosen, the significance of the results is reviewed before accepting them in evaluating an underlying hypothesis. There are two different types of tests that social psychologists use to review their results. Statistics and probability testing define what constitutes a significant finding, which can be as low as 5% or less, and is unlikely due to chance.[59] Replications testing is important in ensuring that the results are valid and not due to chance. False positive conclusions, often resulting from the pressure to publish or the author's own confirmation bias, are a hazard in the field.[60]

Famous experiments[edit]

Asch conformity experiments[edit]

The Asch conformity experiments used a line-length estimation task to demonstrate the power of people's impulse to conform with other members in a small group. The task was designed to be easy to assess but wrong answers were deliberately given by at least some, oftentimes most, of the other participants.[61] In well over a third of the trials, participants conformed to the majority, even though the majority judgment was clearly wrong. Seventy-five percent of the participants conformed at least once during the experiment. Additional manipulations of the experiment showed that participant conformity decreased when at least one other individual failed to conform but increased when the individual began conforming or withdrew from the experiment.[61] Also, participant conformity increased substantially as the number of "incorrect" individuals increased from one to three, and remained high as the incorrect majority grew. Participants with three other, incorrect participants made mistakes 31.8% of the time, while those with one or two incorrect participants made mistakes only 3.6% and 13.6% of the time, respectively.[61]

Festinger (cognitive dissonance)[edit]

In Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance experiment, participants were divided into two groups and were asked to perform a boring task. Both groups were later asked to dishonestly give their opinion of the task, but were rewarded according to two different pay scales. At the end of the study, some participants were paid $1 to say that they enjoyed the task, while the group of participants were paid $20 to tell the same lie. The first group ($1) later reported liking the task better than the second group ($20). Festinger's explanation was that for people in the first group, being paid only $1 was not sufficient incentive. This led them to experience dissonance, or discomfort and internal conflict. They could only overcome that dissonance by justifying their lies. They did this by changing their previously unfavorable attitudes about the task. Being paid $20 provided a reason for doing the boring task, which resulted in no dissonance.[62][63]

The Milgram experiment: The experimenter (E) persuades the participant (T) to give what the participant believes are painful electric shocks to another participant (L), who is actually an actor. Many participants continued to give shocks despite pleas for mercy from the actor.

Milgram experiment[edit]

The Milgram experiment was designed to study how far people would go in obeying an authority figure. Following the events of The Holocaust in World War II, the experiment showed that normal American citizens were capable of following orders even when they believed they were causing an innocent person to suffer or even apparently die.[64]

Stanford prison experiment[edit]

Philip Zimbardo's Stanford prison study, a simulated exercise involving students playing at being prison guards and inmates, ostensibly showed how far people would go in such role playing. In just a few days, the guards became brutal and cruel, and the prisoners became miserable and compliant. This was initially argued to be an important demonstration of the power of the immediate social situation and its capacity to overwhelm normal personality traits.[65][66] Subsequent research has contested the initial conclusions of the study. For example, it has been pointed out that participant self-selection may have affected the participants' behavior,[67] and that the participants' personalities influenced their reactions in a variety of ways, including how long they chose to remain in the study. The 2002 BBC prison study, designed to replicate the conditions in the Stanford study, produced conclusions that were drastically different from the initial findings.[68]

Robber's cave experiment[edit]

Muzafer Sherif's robbers' cave study divided boys into two competing groups to explore how much hostility and aggression would emerge. Sherif's explanation of the results became known as realistic group conflict theory, because the intergroup conflict was induced through competition for resources.[69] Inducing cooperation and superordinate goals later reversed this effect.

Bandura's Bobo doll[edit]

Albert Bandura's Bobo doll experiment demonstrated how aggression is learned by imitation.[70] In the experiment, 72 children, grouped based on similar levels of pre-tested aggressivity, either witnessed an aggressive or a non-aggressive actor interact with a "bobo doll." The children were then placed alone in the room with the doll and observed to see if they would imitate the same behavior of the actor they had observed. As hypothesized, the children who had witnessed the aggressive actor, imitated the behavior and proceeded to act aggressively towards the doll. Both male and female children who witnessed the non-aggressive actor behaved less aggressively towards the doll. However, boys were more likely to exhibit aggression, especially after observing the behavior from an actor of the same gender. In addition, boys were found to imitate more physical aggression, while girls displayed more verbal aggression.


The goal of social psychology is to understand cognition and behavior as they naturally occur in a social context, but the very act of observing people can influence and alter their behavior. For this reason, many social psychology experiments utilize deception to conceal or distort certain aspects of the study. Deception may include false cover stories, false participants (known as confederates or stooges), false feedback given to the participants, and other techniques that help remove potential obstacles to participation.[71][clarification needed]

The practice of deception has been challenged by psychologists who maintain that deception under any circumstances is unethical and that other research strategies (e.g., role-playing) should be used instead. Unfortunately, research has shown that role-playing studies do not produce the same results as deception studies, and this has cast doubt on their validity.[72] In addition to deception, experimenters have at times put people in potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing situations (e.g., the Milgram experiment and Stanford prison experiment), and this has also been criticized for ethical reasons.

To protect the rights and wellbeing of research participants, and at the same time discover meaningful results and insights into human behavior, virtually all social psychology research must pass an ethical review. At most colleges and universities, this is conducted by an ethics committee or Institutional Review Board, which examines the proposed research to make sure that no harm is likely to come to the participants, and that the study's benefits outweigh any possible risks or discomforts to people participating.

Furthermore, a process of informed consent is often used to make sure that volunteers know what will be asked of them in the experiment[clarification needed] and understand that they are allowed to quit the experiment at any time. A debriefing is typically done at the experiment's conclusion in order to reveal any deceptions used and generally make sure that the participants are unharmed by the procedures.[clarification needed] Today, most research in social psychology involves minimal risk, or no greater risk of harm than can be expected from normal daily activities or routine psychological testing.[73]


Social psychology studies the factors that play key roles in a child's development. During this time, teens are faced with many issues and decisions that can impact their social development. They are faced with self-esteem issues, peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, and social media.[74]

Psychologists today are not fully aware of the effect of social media. Social media is worldwide, so one can be influenced by something they will never encounter in real life. In 2019, social media became the single most important activity in adolescents' and even some older adults' lives.[75]

Replication crisis[edit]

Many social psychological research findings have proven difficult to replicate, leading some to argue that social psychology is undergoing a replication crisis.[76] Replication failures are not unique to social psychology and are found in all fields of science.[77] Some factors have been identified in social psychological research that has led the field to undergo its current crisis.

Firstly, questionable research practices have been identified as common. Such practices, while not necessarily intentionally fraudulent, involve converting undesired statistical outcomes into desired outcomes via the manipulation of statistical analyses, sample sizes, or data management systems, typically to convert non-significant findings into significant ones.[60] Some studies have suggested that at least mild versions of these practices are prevalent.[78] One of the criticisms of Daryl Bem in the feeling the future controversy is that the evidence for precognition in the study could be attributed to questionable practices.

Secondly, some social psychologists have published fraudulent research that has entered into mainstream academia, most notably the admitted data fabrication by Diederik Stapel[79] as well as allegations against others. Fraudulent research is not the main contributor to the replication crisis.[80] In fact, many researchers attribute the failure to replicate to differences in time and place.[81] It is difficult to truly replicate the exact same conditions of a study conducted many years ago, as the environment and people have changed.

Several effects in social psychology have been found to be difficult to replicate even before the current replication crisis. For example, the scientific journal Judgment and Decision Making has published several studies over the years that fail to provide support for the unconscious thought theory. Replications appear particularly difficult when research trials are pre-registered and conducted by research groups not highly invested in the theory under questioning.

These three elements together have resulted in renewed attention to replication supported by Daniel Kahneman. Scrutiny of many effects have shown that several core beliefs are hard to replicate. A 2014 special edition of Social Psychology focused on replication studies, and a number of previously held beliefs were found to be difficult to replicate.[82] Likewise, a 2012 special edition of Perspectives on Psychological Science focused on issues ranging from publication bias to null-aversion that contribute to the replication crisis in psychology.[83]

It is important to note that this replication crisis does not mean that social psychology is unscientific.[84] Rather, this reexamination can be a part of the scientific process in which old ideas or those that cannot withstand careful scrutiny are pruned.[85] The consequence is that some areas of social psychology once considered solid, such as social priming, have come under increased scrutiny due to failure to replicate findings.[86]

Academic journals[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thus Interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity have a direct correlation. More so than those with dissimilar attitudes and views, who tend to not be as successful in the attraction department." (Byrne 1961).


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