Social psychology combines the studies of sociology and psychology. It explores concepts like group dynamics, interpersonal communication, and prejudice.
More than that, social psychologists seek to answer critical questions about behavior. They’re interested in learning how individual behavior is influenced by society. They also study how one’s physical environment affects behavior. Social psychologists conduct research topics like social influence and perception.
If you’re considering a career in this field, it offers the advantage of being very interesting work. But, becoming a social psychologist requires a lot of education. There are many other pros and cons as well. Let’s evaluate the positives and negatives of this career.
Pros of Being a Social Psychologist
It’s Intriguing Work
As noted above, social psychology can be extremely interesting work. Not only will you explore why individuals behave the way they do, but you’ll also research how external factors like friends, family values, and religion play a part in shaping one’s behavior.
Taking this macro-level view of human behavior can lead to some interesting findings. For example, in the 1950s, Solomon Asch devised an experiment to see what people would do when social pressure was put on them to select the wrong answer on a test. As he discovered, people would choose the incorrect answer when pressured to do so, even when they knew they were choosing the wrong answer.
Studies like this offer fascinating insights into human behavior. As a social psychologist, you can explore new avenues for understanding why we do the things we do.
You Can Focus on a Niche Area
Social psychology encompasses an enormous realm of scholarship and research. While some social psychologists are “jacks of all trades,” you don’t have to be. Instead, you can specialize in an area of social psychology and become an expert in that field.
For example, social psychologists can specialize in:
- Race relations
- Family relationships
- Religion and psychology
- Cognitive processes
- Environment and human behavior
Additionally, you might focus more generally on social psychology research or providing psychological services to different groups and communities of people.
Social Psychologists Work in Many Fields
Many social psychologists work in research and academics. But the job opportunities are more plentiful than that.
You might work in a medical facility or mental health clinic. Some social psychologists work for marketing companies and advertising agencies. Others work for government agencies and private companies.
There are social psychologists that work for educational organizations, advocacy groups, and nonprofits, too.
You Can Work for Yourself
It’s also possible to work as a social psychology consultant. This job is ideal for many psychologists because you can work for yourself.
As a consultant, you can essentially choose the clients for whom you work. There’s often travel involved – which can be tiresome – but it can also be quite exciting to work with different groups in different parts of the country or the world.
Being a consultant also means that you can establish the rates you charge clients. This can be very lucrative, especially if you’re recognized as an expert in your field.
You Get to Study All Kinds of Human Behaviors
Social psychologists study a wide spectrum of human behaviors. You might explore how relationships between romantic partners form. You can explore why some people are extremely religious while others aren’t religious at all.
Social psychologists also study perception, and how one’s perception of reality may or may not be accurate. Groupthink is yet another phenomenon that social psychologists often study. As a social psychologist, you might even explore the effect that social media has on the self-concept of teens. There are simply many intriguing areas that you can explore!
This Job Involves Helping Others
Most social psychologists don’t practice clinical or counseling psychology, so they aren’t often working with a client in a one-on-one situation.
However, this doesn’t mean that social psychologists don’t have the ability to make a positive impact by helping others.
For example, social psychology research opens doors to understanding complex human behaviors. What we learn from this research can help families come together, help communities heal, and even help curb things like violence and stereotyping.
Additionally, social psychologists can help break down barriers between different groups by demonstrating that at our core, we aren’t all that different from one another. This improved understanding and acceptance can surely have a positive impact in the world in which we live.
You Can Work With Many Kinds of People
Social psychologists study many different behaviors and people. But you can also work alongside many different types of people.
This career attracts people from all walks of life. You might have a client that’s old or young, wealthy or poor, or who lives in an urban or rural area.
Likewise, you might be tasked with researching social issues that impact children, women, the elderly, or another subgroup of humanity. If you like meeting people and learning about different cultures, traditions, and social norms, this is a great career to consider!
The Nature of Work Might Be More Consistent
When you work as a traditional psychologist – like a clinical psychologist that’s in private practice – you must constantly find new clients to continue to make a living. This process can be long and tedious, to say the least.
But as a social psychologist, you’re more likely to be an employee of a business or organization where you earn a salary and have a relatively consistent work schedule. Knowing when you need to work and how much you’ll make from month to month are certainly significant perks!
Cons of Being a Social Psychologist
You Need a Lot of Education
Most social psychology jobs require you to have a doctorate. This means completing four years of undergraduate studies, 1-3 years of graduate studies, and another 3-4 years of doctoral studies.
In some cases, you might find social psychology jobs that only require a master’s degree. Still, to get a master’s degree in this field takes about 6-7 years of full-time study, so you’re still in school for the long haul. There is often a need to conduct post-graduate work, like an internship, after your graduate degree as well.
It Costs a Lot to Become a Psychologist
Not only does it take a very long time to become a psychologist, but it can also be quite expensive!
For example, U.S. News & World Reports notes that among top national universities, tuition and fees for one year of undergraduate studies averages $11,631 for in-state students at a public university. If you go to a private school, the yearly cost is $43,775. Graduate programs and doctoral programs are even more expensive.
There are many ways to help offset the cost of college, but unless you have a means of paying for it all without taking out loans, you could be looking at a significant amount of debt by the time you finish your doctorate.
The Job Outlook Isn’t Particularly Strong
Estimates are that jobs for psychologists of all types – not just social psychologists – will only grow at a marginal rate for the foreseeable future.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the field of psychology are predicted to grow at an eight percent rate through 2030. This represents roughly average growth.
Jobs in the field of social science are expected to grow at a slightly lower rate – just seven percent through the end of the decade.
While this still represents job growth, it’s likely that there will be increased competition for jobs as more students enter this field, graduate, and begin looking for employment.
There Isn’t Much One-on-One Contact
If you’re interested in becoming a psychologist because you like the idea of working directly with individual clients, social psychology might not be the best choice.
Some social psychologists do work with clients, but for the most part, they focus more on research and academics. This can still be highly fulfilling work, but conducting research in a laboratory is a much different experience than providing psychological services in a one-on-one environment to a client in need.