Social Psychologist: What they do and how to become one

Social psychologists are experts in human interaction. They research social influence, perception, and interaction. Areas of focus include self-perception, group processes, and altruism.

Division 8 of the American Psychological Association, the Social Psychology Network, notes that social psychology shares some common features with organizational psychology. Social psychology is also closely related to personality psychology, but personality psychologists tend to focus more on individual differences.

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The Society for Personality and Social Psychology notes that on some level everyone is a social scientist as they try to answer questions like how a professor will grade or why a particular person is smiling at them. Social psychologists, though, use scientific methodologies that they have developed through years in graduate school. They may design experiments that examine, for example, how priming an individual with certain words affects their behavior a short time later.

Social psychologists are not health service professionals. They do not assess and treat individuals. They serve in an indirect way. Social psychology research is applied to areas like healthcare, law, and child care. Psychologists tackle questions like how to raise children to avoid violence and how to combat stereotypes. Social psychologists sometimes serve as expert witnesses in forensics. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology is one of several divisions that has worked to unravel the psychology of human response to climate change.

Education and Training for Social Psychologists

The required training takes place at the graduate level. It is possible to break into the field with a master’s degree, but professionals generally need a doctoral degree to distinguish themselves as social psychologists.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

Social psychology doctoral students typically do four or more years of graduate education. They take courses and seminars in content areas like social cognition, intergroup relations, and political psychology. The curriculum generally includes multiple courses in research design, statistics, and research methodologies. Students write and defend a traditional dissertation in the latter part of the program. This often follows a master’s level research project/ thesis.

As part of the degree program, students may take courses in other departments — social psychologists are, after all, employed in virtually all industries.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology advises students that programs have far more applicants than they have slots. It can be a good idea to pursue psychology as an undergraduate, though it’s not a requirement. What is fundamental is high grades. A psychology student can begin joining professional organizations as early as the undergraduate years. The Social Psychology Network cites the Psi Chi Honors societies as a good place to begin networking. Psychology students can also begin their research careers by assisting faculty with research projects.

Credentialing Standards for Social Psychologists

A social psychologist will likely not need state licensing. However, this depends on the psychologist’s duties and on policies of the state licensing agency.

Sometimes licensure is an option and not a mandate. The APA notes that it can be difficult for psychologists in academic settings to achieve licensure(

Additional Professional Resources

The Society of Experimental Social Psychology is an additional professional resource.
Journals include the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and the Personality and Social Psychology Review. Those interested in reading a textbook can find one online by clicking here.

Career Outlook and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups all psychologists outside of clinical, counseling, school, and organizational/ industrial psychology together for reporting purposes; this reporting category includes many psychologists whose primary function is research. The mean salary was reported as $86,380 in May 2012. A 2009 APA report notes that just 2.6% of recent social psychology graduates were in the “unemployed, seeking” category (

The Social Psychology Network notes that it is more difficult to find positions in the academic arena than in other settings.