What is the Difference Between Social Psychology and Personality Psychology?

Social psychology shares similarities with personality psychology. They both study behavior at the social and individual levels, but they approach their studies from opposite perspectives. Personality psychology mainly focuses upon intrapersonal factors, while social personality mainly focuses upon interpersonal factors.

Similarities Between Social Psychology and Personality Psychology

Social psychology and personality psychology are types of experimental psychology, which means they are generally more concerned about developing and expanding theories than they are in applying those theories in the concrete, everyday world. Experimental psychologists spend much of their time conducting laboratory experiments and writing research papers.

Experimental psychologists provide theories and raw data for their counterparts in the applied branches of psychology to put to practical use. For example, many of the theories that social psychologists and personality psychologists have developed about human nature are put to use by clinical psychologists when treating patients.

Experimental psychologists don’t normally treat patients; they instead study them by performing experiments on them, by interviewing them, by observing them or by studying their reactions to various stimuli. Experimental psychologists also perform experiments on animals and organisms. Personality psychologists study people as individual personalities, while social psychologists study people as members of social groups.

Social and personality psychology do have applied branches where theories are put to use, but their main focus is on research.

Personality Psychology

Personality psychology is the study of the development of personality and individualistic traits. Personality psychologists look at people as individuals rather than as members of society. The aim of personality psychology is to find out why people differ from each other in their beliefs, attitudes and personalities. Personality psychologists seek to understand how factors like gender, culture and genetics affect personality, and how personal beliefs and attitudes affect behavior.

Some of the jobs on the applied side of personality psychology include:

  • developing and administering personality tests
  • serving as consultants for sales companies
  • serving as hiring experts for human resources departments
  • training law enforcement personnel in the handling of stressful situations
  • consulting corporations or governmental agencies that need insight into what makes people tick

Here is a brief description of a few of the major branches of personality psychology and their theories on personality.

Psychoanalytic theories are largely based upon the finding of Sigmund Freud, who believed that human personality was composed of three primary components: the id (pleasure principle), ego (principle of realism) and super-ego (moral principle). According to Freud, the channeling of sexual libido also played a major role in the development of personality. Psychoanalytic psychologists stress the importance of a person’s unconscious motivations, frequently using free association techniques to try to uncover those motivations.

Behaviorism, also called behavioral psychology, stresses the importance of observing outward behavior; behaviorists believe that the study of internal cognitive functions is secondary or even useless because cognition is too subjective in nature. Behaviorists believe that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning from interactions with the environment.

Cognitive theories stress the mental side in the development of personality. They believe that a child’s thought processes are quite different from an adult’s.

Humanistic psychology believes that people are inherently good and have an inner drive toward self-actualization and creativity. Humanists adopt a holistic outlook, encouraging self-exploration and spiritual aspiration.

Social Psychology

Social psychology is the study of how people’s behavior and thought patterns are influenced by social situations. While personality psychologists examine the individualistic side of human personality, social psychologists look at the social aspect of human personality.

Though social psychologists borrow theories and inspiration from sociology, social psychologists mainly focus upon the interaction of a person with small groups, while sociologists mainly focus upon a person’s involvement with society-at-large.

Social psychologists study the interactions of people in small groups like families, church groups, gangs, clubs and friendship circles; they study how these groups affect each individual member. Social psychologists study conformity and “groupthink” in situations where people think and act differently than they do when they’re alone. Social psychologists also study the influences that social media—television in particular—have upon people.

Social psychologists study the formation of personal beliefs with regard to social situations, such as personal biases, prejudices and stereotypes; they also study the influence that a circle of friends has in the formation of those beliefs.

While social psychology is largely concerned with experimental study and the formation of theories, it also has an applied side. Many of the theories of social psychology are applied in areas like advertising, law enforcement and criminal justice. Social psychologists have also helped alleviate racism, stereotypes and gender discrimination in employment settings, court systems, law enforcement agencies and other governmental agencies.

Social psychologists sometimes work in advertising or as expert witnesses in court systems. Others administer personality tests, help design educational courses, teach or serve as consultants for governments or corporations.

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