What is the Difference Between General Psychology and Social Psychology?

There are so many sub-fields and specialties in psychology that it’s often hard to keep them straight, especially when some of them have more than one name. It doesn’t help that there are various systems of classification that sometimes differ greatly from each other. So we’ll try to clear up some of this mess by describing general psychology and social psychology and explaining some of the branches of general psychology.

General Psychology

General psychology is a term that refers to the entire science of psychology. Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior, including the study of perception, motivation, emotions, personality, relationships and the unconscious. Psychology is a broad field of science, especially considering that it overlaps other sciences; psychology sprang from other sciences like physics, biology, chemistry, sociology, anthropology and philosophy, and it still bears a strong relationship with these parental sciences.

Many psychology students get a bachelor’s degree in general psychology, which provides them with a chance to either obtain a master’s degree in a specialty field or to go into the workplace to get an entry-level position in a psychology field.

Here are some of the main branches of general psychology, including social psychology:

Experimental Psychology

This was the original branch of psychology, the “trunk” from which all the other branches sprang. The primary activity of experimental psychologists is to research sensation, perception, conditioning, learning and motor behavior in humans and animals. Comparative psychology and physiological psychology are usually classified under experimental psychology. All three of these types rely heavily upon physics, chemistry and biology, and all three are laboratory-based.

Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology

These two types of psychology are similar in that both deal with the testing, diagnosis, counseling and treatment of patients with psychological problems. The difference between them is that clinical psychologists deal with patients who are more seriously disturbed, usually to the point of being institutionalized.

Industrial-organizational Psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology uses psychological methods to optimize the productivity of workers and to keep them psychologically healthy. This type of psychology is also used in hiring and evaluating workers.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is the application of psychology in the field of criminal justice. Forensic psychologists are often called as expert witnesses regarding the fitness of a witness to testify in a trial. They also can testify in court cases involving child custody, personal injury or insanity pleas. Some forensic psychologists help hire or evaluate law enforcement officers, and some provide law enforcement agencies with criminal profiles or polygraph interpretations.

Social Psychology

Social psychology is the study of how people’s feelings, thoughts and behavior are affected by social conditioning, social situations and society-at-large. It studies the formation of personal beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, stereotypes and biases and the influence that society has in that formation. This is a relatively new, research-based field that concerns itself with measurable values.

Social psychologists study how people act in the presence of others, and how it differs from the way people act when they’re alone. Social psychologists look at the social conditions that cause people to feel or act a certain way. They also study the influence that television and other social media have on people.

Related Reading: How to Become a Social Psychologist

Social psychologists place a heavy reliance upon empirical findings and laboratory experiments, and their theories tend to be focused and specific rather than general or universal. They make liberal use of the theories and findings of anthropology and sociology, applying them in their psychological studies of individuals. But while anthropologists and sociologists focus mainly upon the effects of large societies and cultural values upon individuals, social psychologists focus more upon the interactions individuals have with smaller groups of people, such as gangs, clubs, committees, church groups, juries or groups of friends. Social psychologists study groups of workers to determine things like how the group dynamic affects productivity, and they study crowds to see how individual attitudes change in the midst of a crowd.

Social psychology didn’t become an important field of study under after World War II, when the horror of the Holocaust led researchers to begin studying conformity, obedience and the “mass mind” or “mob mentality” that leads good people to do horrible things they’d normally never do on their own. The U.S. government also grew interested in social psychology at that time, mainly because it wanted to use the principles of social psychology to influence its citizens. Social society has grown in importance in subsequent years in part because of its importance in advertising.

The way we perceive our place in the world plays an important role in forming our choices, behaviors and beliefs, and the opinions of others also plays a big part. For example, social psychologists have confirmed the concept called “groupthink,” where people often go along with the majority opinion rather than cause disruption.

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