Definition of psychology;

  • Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and mental process. It can involve both animal and human behaviour (Richard 1995)
  • Psychology is the systematic study of human and animal behaviour. Psychology is also the study of how humans learn or adapt successfully to its environment.

This is the study of how social conditions affect human beings. It is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation.

The term thoughts, feelings and behaviours include all of the psychological variables that are measurable in human beings. The state that others may be imagined or implied suggests that we are prone to social influence even when no other people are present such as when watching television, or following internalized cultural norms.

Scholars in this field are generally either psychologists or sociologists, though all social psychologists employ both the individual and the group as their units of analysis. A significant number of social psychologists are sociologists. Their work has a greater focus on the behaviour of the group, and thus examines such phenomena as interactions and exchanges at micro-level group dynamics, group development and crowds at the micro-level.

Sociologists are interested in the individual, but primarily within the extent of larger situations and processes, such as social roles, race class and socialization. They use a combination of qualitative research designs and highly quantitative methods such as procedures in sampling and surveys.

Social psychologists typically explain human behavior as a result of the interaction of immediate social situations. In general social psychologists have a preference for laboratory test empirical findings. Their theories tend to be specific and focused, rather than general.



The main concepts in social psychology include the following;

  1. Attitude and attitude change
  2. social cognition
  3. self concept
  4. social influence
  5. group dynamics
  6. conformity
  7. violence and aggression
  8. interpersonal attraction
  9. pro-social behaviour
  10. prejudice
  11. discrimination

1. Attitude and Attitude Change

According to Richard (1995)-An attitude is a predisposition to react in a particular ways towards specific things. It has three main elements:

  1. a belief or opinion about something
  2. feelings about that thing
  3. a tendency to act towards that thing in certain ways

Attitudes are involved in virtually all other areas of the discipline including conformity, interpersonal attraction, social perception and prejudice. In social psychology attitude is defined to as learned, global perception of a person, object, place or issue that influence thought and action.

More simply; attitudes are basic expressions of approval or disapproval, favourability or infavourability or as Bem (1970) puts it, likes and dislikes. Examples would include liking of chocolate ice cream, being anti-abortion or endorsing the values of a particular political party.

General psychologists study attitude formation, the structure of attitudes, attitude change, the reaction of attitudes and the relationship between attitudes and behaviour. Social psychologists are interested in the components of attitudes, how attitudes develop and how attitudes change.

  1. Social Cognition

This is the study of how people process social information, especially it encoding, storage, retrieval and application to social situations. Social cognition is a growing area of social psychology that study how people perceive, think about and remember information about others. One assumption in social cognition is that reality is too complex to easily discern and so we see the world according to simplified schemes or images of reality.

  1. Attribution

Another major concept is attribution. Attributions are the explanations we make for peoples behaviours; either our own behaviour or the behaviour of others. An attribution can be either internal or external. Internal or dispositional attributions assign causality to factors within the person such as ability or personality. External or situational attributions assign causality to an outside factors such the weather.

  1. Self Concept

This is a persons understanding to his or herself. The self concept can be divided into a cognitive component known as the self-schema, and an evaluative component, the self-esteem. The need to maintain a steady self-esteem is recognized as a central human motivation in the field of social psychology.

People develop their self concept by a variety of means; including introspection, feedback form others, self perception and social comparison. By comparison to relevant others, people gain information about themselves, and they make inferences that are relevant to self-esteem. Social comparison can be upwards or downwards ie comparison to people who are either high in status or ability, or lower in status or ability. Downward comparisons are often made in order to elevate self-esteem.

  1. Social Influence

Social influence refers to the way people affect the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of others. Like the stdy of attitudes; it is a traditional, core topic in social psychology. In fact research on social influence overlaps considerably with the research on attitudes and persuasion. Social psychologists are also interested in the role that social influence has on behaviour and decision making. Topics such as the psychology of persuasion, peer pressure, conformity and obedience are just a few of those studied in this area of social psychology.

  1. Conformity

Conformity is the most common and pervasive form of social influence. It is generally defined as; the tendencies to act or think like other members of a group. Group size, unanimity, cohesion, status and prior commitment all help to determine the level of conformity in an individual.

Two major motives in conformity are:

  1. Normative influence- this refers to the tendency to conform in order to gain social acceptance and avoid social rejection or conflict, as in peer pressure.
  2. Informational influence-this is based on the desire to obtain useful information through conformity and there by achieve a correct or appropriate results.


  1. Group dynamics

A group is two or more people that interact, influence each other, and share common identity. Group dynamics refers to the occurrence of recurred patterns of social interaction. Groups have a number of emergent qualities that distinguish them from aggregates.

Some of these include:

  1. Norms:– these are implicit rules and expectations for group members to follow eg saying thank you.
  2. Roles:- these are implicit rules and expectations for specific members within the group eg the oldest sibling may have additional responsibilities in the family.
  3. Relations:- these are patterns of liking within the group and also differences in prestige or status

Groups are important not only because they offer social support, resources and feeling of belonging, but because they supplement an individuals self-concept. To a large extent, we define ourselves by our group memberships. This natural tendency for people to identify themselves with a particular group and contrast themselves with other groups is known as social identity.

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 likelihood of the dominant response, which tends to improve performance on simple tasks and reduce it on complex task.

In contrast, social loafing is the tendency of individuals to slack when working in a group. Social loafing is common when the task is considered unimportant and individual contributions are not easy.

The behaviour of groups is one of the largest research areas in social psychology. Most people realize that groups tend to behave differently than individuals. These group behaviours are sometimes beneficial and positive, but can also be detrimental and negative.


  1. Violence and Aggression

Aggression can be defined as any behaviour that is intended to harm another human being. Hostile aggression is accompanied by strong emotions, particularly anger, in which case, harming the other person is the goal, while instrumental aggression is only a means to an end. Eg harming the person can be used to gain something such as money.

Social psychologists are interested in how and why people engage in violence or act aggressively. Research in this area looks at numerous factors that may cause aggression including social variables and media influences. Research often looks at the role social learning plays in producing aggressive behaviours and actions.


  1. Interpersonal Attractions

This refers to all the forces that lead people to like each other, establish relationships and in some cases fall in love. Social relationships play a major role in shaping behaviour, attitudes, feelings and thoughts.

Social psychologists study how these interpersonal relationships affects people by looking at attachments, liking, love and attraction.

  1. Pro-social Behaviour

Pro-social behaviour is also another major research area in social psychology. Pro-social behaviours are those that involve helping and cooperating. Researchers often looks at why people help others as well as why they sometimes refuse to help or cooperate.

  1. Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes exist in any social group. Social psychologists are interested in the origins, causes and effects of these types of attitudes and social categorization.


  1. Through social cognition which is part of social psychology, its possible to understand how people perceive their social worlds. It is also through social cognition that we tend to store, remember and also use information received about other people and our selves.
  2. Through social contructionism, we are able to construct knowledge about social world around us through language, culture and history; hence one is able to view the world from an objective or realistic point of view.
  3.  Through descriptive research, which is a research method in social psychology, it is possible to get accurate description of behaviour of a certain group.
  4. Through correlation research it is possible to understand the relationship between variables, hence more likely to make realistic conclusion and corrective measures to problem where possible.


                                        BRANCHES OF PSYCHOLOGY

1. Community Psychology:-

This is a form of social and psychological intervention in which psychologists try to change general social conditions that play a role in childrens and adults psychological problems as well as to treat such problems. Community psychologists are concerned with everyday behaviour in natural settings such as the home, the neighborhood and the work place.

2. Child Psychology:-

This is a field of psychology that seeks to account for the gradual evolution of the childs cognitive, social and other capacities first by describing changes in the childs observed behaviour and then by uncovering the process and strategies that underlie these changes.

3. Health Psychology:-

This is a field of psychology that is devoted to understanding psychological influences on how people stay healthy, why they become ill and how they respond when they become ill. Health psychologists are concerned with psychologys contributions to the promotion and maintenance of good health and the prevention and treatment of illness. They may design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, mange stress, prevent cavities or stay physically fit.

4. Educational Psychology:-

This is the field of psychology that studies a range of human behaviour involved in the educational process including human development, learning, memory, motivation, classroom management and the evaluation of learning. Educational psychologists are concerned with the study of human learning. They attempt to understand the basic aspects of learning and then develop materials and strategies for enhancing the learning process. eg educational psychologists may study reading and develop a new technique for teaching reading from the results of the research.

5. Abnormal Psychology:-

This is the field of psychology that seeks to define abnormal behaviour or psychological disorder and describe dysfunction, distress or unexpected cultural response. Also it seeks to describe a multidimensional-integrative approach to diagnosis and evaluating abnormal behaviour.

6. Experimental psychology:-

This is the study of the processes of sensing, perceiving and thinking by the use of experimental techniques. This area of specialization includes a diverse group of psychologists who do research in the most basic areas of psychology like learning memory, attention, cognition, sensation, perception, motivation and language. Sometimes their research is conducted with animals instead of human beings.

7. Social Psychology:-

This is the scientific study of the experience and behaviour of an individual in relation t other individuals, group and culture. Social psychologists study how our beliefs, feelings and behaviour are affected by other persons.

8. Counseling Psychology:-

This focuses on the educational, social and career adjustments. It also deals with diagnosing and treating people with psychological problems. Counseling psychologists do many of the same things that clinical psychologists do. However, counseling psychologists tend to focus more on persons with adjustment problems, rather than on persons suffering from severe psychological disorders. Counseling psychologists are employed in academic settings, community, mental health centers and private practice.

9. Clinical psychology:-

Clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises like grief or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. Some clinical psychologists are generalists who work with a wide variety of populations, while others work with specific groups of people.

10. Cognitive Psychology:-

Cognitive psychologists investigate mental processes associated with everyday activities pattern recognition to complex problem solving. Some of the areas of interest are sensation and perception, attention, memory, language, problem solving and decision making.

11. Developmental Psychology:-

Developmental psychologists study how we develop intellectually, socially, emotionally and normally during our lifespan. Developmental psychologists usually do research and teach in academic settings, but many act as consultants to day care centers, schools or social service agencies.

12. Evolutionary Psychology:-

Evolutionary psychology is a field that uses evolutionary theory to understand behavior and the design of the brains and minds of human beings and other animals. Closely related to cooperative psychology, evolutionary psychology is an approach on way of thinking that can be applied topic within psychology.

13. Environmental Psychology:-

Environmental psychologists are concerned with the relations between psychological processes and the physical environment ranging from home and offices to urban areas and regions.  Environmental psychologists may do research on attitudes towards different environments; personal space, or the effects on productivity of different office designs.

14. Industrial/Organizational Psychology:-

This branch is primarily concerned with the relationship between people their work environments. They may develop new ways to increase productivity.

15. Neuroscience, Biopsychology and Psychobiology:-

Neuroscientists (a newer term for Bio-psychologists and Psycho-biologists) investigate brain behaviour relationships. These psychologists study both very basic processes (eg how brain cells function), sensory systems, memory and more observable phenomena such as behaviour change as s function of drug use.

16. Psychometric and Quantitative Psychology:-

Psychometric and quantitative psychologists are concerned with the methods and techniques used to acquire and apply psychological knowledge. A psycho-metrist revises old intelligence, personality and aptitude test and devises new ones. Quantitative psychologists assist researchers in psychology or other fields to design experiments or interpret their results.

17. Rehabilitative Psychology:-

Rehabilitation psychologists work with people who have suffered physical deprivation or lose at birth or during later development as a result of damage or deterioration of function. They help people overcome both the psychological and situational barriers to effective functioning in the world.

18. School psychology:-

School psychologists are involved in the development of children in educational settings. They are typically involved in the assessment of children and recommendation of actions to facilitate students learning. They often acts as consultants to parents and administrators to optimize the learning environment for specific students.

19. Family Psychology:-

Family psychologists are concerned with the prevention of family conflicts, the treatment of marital and family problems and the maintenance of normal family functioning. They design and conduct programs for marital enrichment, pre-marital preparations and improved parent child relations. They also conduct research on topics such as child abuse, family communication patterns, effects of divorce and remarriage.

20. Forensic Psychology:-

Forensic psychologists are concerned with the implied and clinical facets of the law such as determining a defendants competence to stand trial if an accident victim has suffered physical of neurological damage.

21. Psychology of Women:-

Psychology of women is the study psychological and social factors womens development and behaviour. The field includes the study of stereotypes about women, the relation of hormones to behaviour, womens achievements in science and mathematics, the development of gender roles and identity. Sexuality etc.

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