Difference Between Psychology and Social Psychology

Psychology vs Social Psychology

Psychology and Social Psychology are two fields between which certain differences can be observed. While psychology can be considered the larger discipline which caters to a number of sub-disciplines, social psychology is one such sub-discipline. Psychology can be defined as the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. It includes a variety of sub-disciplines such as personality psychology, positive psychology, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, etc. On the other hand, social psychology can be defined as the scientific study which pays attention to the impact of societal factors on the individual. So the main difference between psychology and social psychology is that while psychology encompasses a general outlook to a variety of aspects of human life, social psychology concentrates on the social influences on the individual only.

What is Psychology?

Psychology can be defined as the scientific study of the mental processes and behavior of the individual. The special feature of psychology is that it pays specific attention to the individual. Psychology is a field that has a shorter history when comparing to some of the social sciences. Yet it has always been an intriguing field of study for human beings. However, a scientific foundation for psychology was formed with the establishment of the first laboratory for psychology related experiments. This was by Wilhelm Wundt in 1879, in Germany. He was later considered as the father of psychology. Psychology has its roots in medicine and philosophy. With time along with the development of other sciences, psychology has also improved, encompassing a larger field of study. It concentrates on the social interactions, individual personality, abnormalities, education, human development, and many other segments of human life. For the psychology student, an awareness of the schools of psychology is given. This is to lay the foundation for psychology. The main schools of psychology are Structuralism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Psychoanalysis, Gestalt and Humanistic psychology.

Difference Between Psychology and Social Psychology - What is Psychology

Wilhelm Wundt (seated) – Father of Psychology

What is Social Psychology?

Social psychology can be considered as a branch of psychology which pays specific attention to the influence of the society on the individual. It explores how the behavior, mental processes, and individual emotions are influenced by the social surrounding. This social surrounding can either be real or imaginary. For example, imagine our very own behavior in a classroom setting, in comparison to the behavior with our friends. There is a vast difference. Even though it is the same individual the behavior is different. This is because the social context influences our behavior. It is the role of the social psychologist to understand the influence of society on the individual and its nature. As a discipline, it explores a range of topics that include, group dynamics, prejudice, and stereotypes, obedience and conformity, leadership, aggression, etc. The special characteristic of social psychology is that it pays attention not only to the individual itself, but to the social interactions, and influences that affect the individual. Some of the key theories and concepts in social psychology are Bandura’s social learning theory, Weiner’s attribution theory, Festinger’s cognitive dissonance, and Tajfel’s social identity theory. Also, there are famous experiments that have contributed to the field of social psychology. Milgram’s study can be taken as an example. Even though it is now considered as one of the most unethical studies in the history of psychology, the findings contributed to the development of the field immensely.

Difference Between Psychology and Social Psychology - What is Social Psychology

What is the difference between Psychology and Social Psychology?

• In psychology, the focus is on the individual in all aspects of life whereas social psychology specifically focuses on the influence of society on the individual.

• Psychology is the main discipline whereas social psychology is only a sub-discipline .


Images Courtesy:

  1. Wilhelm Wundt via Wikicommons (Public Domain)
  2. Friends by Garry Knight (CC BY-SA 2.0)