What are the Requirements for a Career in Social Psychology?


Social psychology studies of how people influence and relate to others. This branch of psychology uses scientific methods to assess how people think, feel and behavior and how those factors influence how others are perceived. Social psychology focuses on a variety of areas such as: social perceptions, leadership styles, group behavior, non-verbal behaviors, aggression, conformity and prejudices.

As a social psychologist, your primary focus will be on researching human behavior. You may work at a university setting or you may seek employment at an organization or social service agency. You may even decide to concentrate on discovering realistic solutions to real-world problems. Moreover, you may spend your time helping organizations hire and train employees, assess educational programs, develop interventions, encourage people to reduce toxins and pollution and/or consult with organizations on how to mediate conflicts.

In addition, you may examine people’s interactions with others in a social setting. More than likely you will work in one or more of the following areas: marketing research, organizational consultation, systems design and/or in applied psychology fields. Furthermore, you may decide to specialize in one of the following areas: leadership, attitudes, perceptions, and group behavior.

Educational Requirements

Although you may be able to find work as a social psychologist with a master’s degree, you more than likely need to earn a doctorate degree to seek valuable employment. If you are interested in becoming a social psychologist, your first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. Once you have obtained a bachelor’s degree, your next step is to enroll in a graduate social psychology program.

It is important to note that some graduate psychology program have a 2-step program, in which you are first awarded a master’s degree in social psychology and then a doctorate. Moreover, some schools skip the master’s degree and just award a doctorate (Psy.D. or Ph.D.) degree in psychology. Research the different graduate degree programs before enrolling in graduate school. You should be able to complete your graduate program within 5 years, but you will have 7 years to complete it.

Undergraduate Courses

The following courses are normally covered in an undergraduate school psychology program:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Social Psychology or Society and the Individual
  • Elements of Sociological Theory
  • Research Methods
  • Statistics
  • Learning and Memory
  • Perception
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Personality
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Infancy and Childhood Development

Undergraduate Degree Requirements

A social psychology undergraduate degree program may help you understand human behavior so that you can help clients with their emotional, psychological and behavioral issues. This program examines the relationship between individual psychology, social interactions, and the effect social order has on human behavior. This program may also teach you how to assess power and status issues, mental, emotional and physical health factors, conformities and abnormalities and interpersonal/social communications. You should be able to complete this program within 4 years.

Graduate Courses

The following courses are normally covered in a graduate school psychology program:

  • Statistics
  • Research Methodology
  • Laboratory and Field Designs
  • Implicit Research Methods
  • Psychophysiology
  • Content Analysis of Dyadic Interactions
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Health
  • Social Cognition (Stereotyping, Attributions and Decision-Making)
  • Group Behavior

Graduate Degree Requirements

A social psychology graduate (master’s-level) degree program offers you a comprehensive overview of human behavior and social interactions. It is the most broadly defined program as it allows you to take electives from a variety of areas like: sociology, criminal justice, health and education. A master’s degree in social psychology is beneficial if you want to work in social work, education, criminology and anthropology.

A dual major in counseling and social psychology can prepare you for a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in counseling psychology, if you choose to pursue advancement. You will be required to complete a supervised, clinical internship in social psychology and a thesis (a research paper on a social psychology topic). This program normally takes between 2 and 3 years to complete.

Doctoral Courses

The following courses are normally covered in a doctoral school psychology program:

  • Social Cognition
  • Motivation and Self-Regulation
  • Relationships
  • Personality and Social Development
  • Organizational Processes
  • Research Methods
  • Environmental Psychology
  • Stereotypes
  • Attitudes and Persuasion
  • Health Psychology

Doctoral Degree Requirements

A doctoral program focuses the self, motivation, social cognition, individuality and interpersonal relationships. The main goal of this program is to train you to work in an academic and/or research setting. You are encouraged to collaborate with other mental health professionals and your specialization is based on research and experience. Most states require that you have a doctorate in order to practice as a social psychologist. It is important to note to that there are two types of doctorates available for psychologists.

These doctorates are based on diagnosis, treatment and preferences. If you are interested in working with individuals and/or groups, you should consider earning a practice-based Psy.D, but if you are primarily interested in research and/or teaching, you should consider a research-based Ph.D. You should be able to complete your doctoral program within 7 years. In addition to coursework, you may also be required to complete a clinical, supervised internship and a dissertation (research paper on a social psychology topic).

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References and Further Reading

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