How to Become a Social Psychologist


In the context of human behavior, many aspiring psychologists find the study of social interaction to be the most fascinating of all. And considering the immense influence of the social environment on the individual, it is no great surprise. Every person is, to some degree, the product of other people’s behavior. Sound interesting?

In becoming a social psychologist, being a sociable person is not always necessary. Many scholars within the field are introverted people, and if holding a job position that is theoretical in nature, that is certainly fine. An indelible requirement is, however, to have an intrinsic fascination – perhaps innate – with the functioning of the social world.

Research from Howard Gardner, a world-renowned psychologist, posits that interpersonal (social) intelligence is a distinct form of intelligence, no different from musical or mathematical talent. According to him, people with this strength are particularly astute at understanding the moods, feelings, temperaments, and motivations, of others. Do you belong to this group? Think about it.

What is the Importance of Social Psychology?

The field of social psychology has many important real-world applications. Its consideration of both the individual and society means that it can provide insight into a range of areas.

In terms of businesses, social psychology can improve progress against strategic aims by giving insight into the needs, wants and motivations of the consumer. It allows businesses to better understand their customer’s requirements from a product but also allows them to market that product to them in an effective way. Social psychology allows for an increase in communication between the business and the product end user, allowing everyone a more productive and efficient transaction.

Social psychology can also help to shape almost every aspect of the education system. From providing learning materials at a suitable individual level to organization of buildings and processes to accommodate the community of students in the way most conducive to effective learning.

Finally, in the area of law, social psychology provides insight for both lawmakers and law enforcers. Some areas of social psychology may give lawmakers guidance relating to the psychological and social factors relating to many offences. Whilst some may give law enforcers scientific explanation as to the actions of an individual either in defense or to aid the case of prosecution.

The true strength of social psychology, and the one thing underpinning all of its importance, is its reliance on the scientific method. The adoption of scientific experimentation to test all its theories means that some of society’s most important areas can rely upon its results.

What Does a Social Psychologist Do?

Because social influence comes in many different forms, the area of social psychology you specialize in may vary greatly. Some are concerned with how media impressions impact obesity, others with high school bullying. Some study the human capacity for altruism and benevolence, others the causes of “evil” and malicious behavior. In other words, the social group you study may vary in size, from families, to large organizations, to complex societies.

Some social psychologists work with people one-on-one, helping them to become more effective or cooperative with co-workers and other people. Others work with groups by teaching, mentoring, or lecturing on what makes humans tick in a social context. Then there are those who do neither. These professionals contribute to the discipline by doing research that others can pick up on, and apply practically in the physical world.

If your job position predominantly involves research, a profound understanding of psychological theory is what will make or break your chances to be successful in the field. Such jobs are commonly offered in both government and private research institutions, such as universities.

If working with people face-to-face, the ability to convey your theoretical knowledge to others may be just as important as the knowledge itself. Just ask any educator or trainer, such as a college instructor or training coach. These occupations are available in all sectors:government, private, and non-profit.

Why Become a Social Psychologist?

Social psychologists often engage in research as well, making it a good career choice for people interested in applying the principles of scientific investigation to better understanding group behavior. Because it crosses the bridge between sociology and psychology, the breadth and depth of research possibilities is quite expansive, making it an interesting field of work.

Social psychology is a rather broad field of study and offers a wide variety of career opportunities. A large number of social psychologists work in educational settings where they are employed as teachers, usually at the collegiate level. Since the focus in this context is on teaching and learning, it is an advantageous career for people with a knack for facilitating the learning of others.

There are economic reasons for becoming a social psychologist as well. Over the next few years, the need for social psychologists is expected to grow. Additionally, pay for a social psychologist is quite good, averaging in the $90,000 per-year range according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Individuals may also find practical benefits to becoming a social psychologist. Many social psychologists, particularly those that work in the education sector, enjoy more time off than other specialists in the field of psychology. If having a more favorable work schedule is a priority, social psychology may be a good career choice. Additionally, typically there is no licensure or certification requirement, which reduces the time that must be spent in preparing for a career. It is also more financially advantageous, as there are no associated costs and fees with yearly licensure or certification examinations.

What are the Education and Licensing Requirements to Become a Social Psychologist?

In the vast majority of cases, social psychologists need education that goes far beyond a basic undergraduate degree, even if it is a Bachelor in the correct field. At the very least, you will also need a Master’s degree in Psychology. A few universities offer social psychology programs on this level. If possible, enroll in such a program to hone your skills in this sub-field already on the Master’s level. 2 years of full-time study is standard in the US.

Going all the way with a Ph.D.normally takes an additional 3-4 years of study after a Master’s degree. However, some universities make an exception and do accept merited undergraduates directly into a Ph.D. program. If you decide go this path, you are better off having taken college courses in social psychology. Hence, make sure you sign up for classes such as Introduction to Social Psychology, Attitudes, and Social Cognition. According to the Social Psychology Network, there are even courses in social psychology research methods.

To obtain your license, you will need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and professional experience or at least 1-2 years. Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology is also required.

What Does It Take to Be a Social Psychologist?

Here are some of the most important skills and qualities needed by social psychologists:

  • Communication skills. Much of the research conducted by social psychologists involves interviewing people, so it’s important to be able to communicate effectively; this includes being a good listener and learning to read body language.
  • Open-mindedness. Social psychologists deal with people of various races, cultures and belief systems, so they mustn’t let prejudice, personal biases or subjective opinions contaminate their interviews.
  • Detachment. Social psychologists often deal with people who live in difficult environments or have disturbing problems, so it’s important for psychologists to maintain a certain detachment, not letting personal feelings influence their research findings.
  • Research skills. They must be able to not only conduct objective and rigorous research of their own, but must also be able to locate, study and understand the research conducted by scientists from various fields.
  • Presentation skills. Social scientists must be able to present their research findings in a clear and convincing fashion, or all their research is for naught. They must be able to use graphs, tables, verbal descriptions and other forms of research data in an organized and attractive presentation of their findings.

Where Does a Social Psychologist Work?

Social psychologists generally work in the following settings:

  • Hospitals and medical centers
  • Consulting firms
  • Academic and other research institutes
  • Marketing, advertising, and research firms
  • Government and non-profit organizations
  • Social welfare organizations
  • Social service offices
  • Private corporations
  • Elementary and secondary schools

What is the Employment Outlook for Social Psychologists?

Job prospects for psychologists are good. Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics point to projections of 12% job growth in the near future.

Once hitting the job market, Ph.D. holders are most competitive, and may find work faster because of higher demand. Master’s holders should not despair, however. They frequently find work in areas outside of psychology, a result of the growing need for psychological services in seemingly unrelated industries. One such industry is health care, where teams comprised of doctors, social workers, and other professionals constantly crave psychological know-how to make interdisciplinary strides.

What is the Salary of a Social Psychologist?

Salary figures from the American Psychological Association’s indicate that most positions in social psychology pay better than positions in clinical, counseling, and school psychology. University faculty make a median salary of $76,090. Research positions show figures of $80,500, and research administration members as much as $116,343. Educational administration employees top the list, making as much as $116,500 annually (Psychology Career Center).

If you’re seriously considering a career in social psychology, the chance for salary advancement is thus the last thing you should worry about.

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