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Careers in Psychology: Social & Relational

Careers in Psychology: Social & Relational

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify roles and specializations in social and relational psychology.

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Hello, class.

Continuing our overview of the study of the different fields of psychology that you might go into if you were to pursue a career in the subject, today we're going to be looking at the social and relational aspects of psychology.

Social, relational, community psychology generally is looking at different groups of people, their behaviors, and the causes for those different behaviors. In this way it's very much a sociocultural approach to psychology.

A lot of social and relational psychology is observation-based research. Which is to say, you can't necessarily experiment on groups of people and the way they work within social contexts. A lot of it is watching people-- and generally large groups of people-- and trying to see general sorts of theories on what's occurring within that large group.

Generally also, a lot of social and relational psychology is focused on bettering people's situations. In this way, it's very much a humanistic theory of psychology. Of course, it does incorporate a lot of other different theories, but that's what it's generally try to focus on. Making things more positive or better.

The first two areas that we're going to take a look at are ones that you're probably pretty familiar with, since we've been talking about them a lot in terms of different approaches to psychology. And they are, first, social psychology and cultural psychology. Social psychology studies social behaviors, and how individuals are influenced by groups of people around.

An example of this is what we call social loafing, which is a social psychology phenomenon where it was found that, depending on the size of a group, a person is less likely to perform an action quite as well, when there are more people around them. An example of this being applied is when you need first aid, or you need assistance with something. You're not supposed to ask a group of people for help. Rather, you should single out one individual person. Because if you ask the entire group, everybody in the group is less likely to help you out, because there are more people around them.

The second is cultural psychology, which is similar to social psychology in that it studies how a person's culture, or cultural context, can affect the way that they think or behave. An example of this is what we talked about with cultural relativity where, in America, we have a concept called, "The squeaky wheel gets the oil." Which is to say that a person who speaks up, is a person that gets noticed, or get something. But this isn't necessarily true in other cultural contexts. In Japan, there's an idea called, "The nail that sticks up, gets hammered down." Which is to say that a person who stand out from the group, is somebody that needs to be put back in their place.

So you can see how these two different sayings sort of conflict with each other. That's because the cultural context of America versus Japan has a different idea of how a person should stick out in a group.

Both social and cultural psychology are what we call research-based areas of psychology. The point of both of them is to better understand what's going on around us. We're trying to gather information through research.

The next two social and relational areas are not so much research, as action-based. They are areas that attempt to influence, or try to affect change, in the areas that they're studying.

The first is community psychology, which not only studies the psychology of particular groups within an area, but also seeks to improve them through different programs, as well as education within those areas. So community psychology is committed to social justice. They're trying to improve the situations of people that might be marginalized, or might have less within a certain community or situation. A lot of community psychologists focus on particular groups that might be having trouble within a city or within a larger social context.

Related to that is school psychology, which is an area of action psychology, which has a variety of different tasks that seek to improve the situation of the students within the schools. These are things like psychological testing to determine whether a person should be placed within a program, or should receive special assistance, referrals for people to go to different programs, emotional support and counseling, as well vocational support. Trying to get people assistance so they can understand what to do next in their education, or in their fields.

In school psychology, you're supposed to detect and treat different kinds of problems within the school context, so as to improve the overall classroom learning of the students within that environment.

Finally, there's some related areas under this career specialty area in psychology to also consider. The first is what we call comparative psychology which, as the name suggests, compares the behaviors of different species of animals to our own. Especially animals that are either similar to us, so that we could try to better understand those behaviors that are similar to us. For example, chimpanzees, and language of chimpanzees, so we can better understand the language of humans. But we can also study animals that have completely different kinds of behaviors. For example, the social structure of ants, which is very different from people, can help us to understand our own social structure better, through analysis of those contrasting differences.

Another area is consumer psychology, which is an area that studies how people are influenced by the products and the advertising around us, as well as trying to determine different trends in the buying a products by consumers. An example of this is in Super Bowl commercials that you might watch, which definitely have a consumer psychologist studying them to determine whether a person is more or less likely to watch and buy those products. The idea is that they're supposed to appeal to people on a variety of different psychological levels, using a lot of different psychological techniques, as well.

Finally, we have forensic psychology, which is something that you might be familiar with from different crime shows on television. But it's not just profiling of criminals, although that's definitely a part of it. Forensic psychology tries to understand the underlying causes of criminal behavior. So in a lot of ways it's related to social or community psychology by trying to understand, specifically related to crime, how these different things are occurring within a group of people. It also studies programs involved in crime prevention. Things like police, and hiring of police, as well as the justice system in general. So it studies courtrooms and prison practices to try to better facilitate change, or to help out groups within that. Like the inmates within a prison, so that we can have a better situation for them, and a better rehabilitation program.

Terms to Know
Community Psychology

An area of psychology that helps groups of people to have wider access to mental health care and educates them on psychological issues.

Comparative Psychology

Studies and compares the behavior of different species to humans.

Consumer Psychology

The study of advertising and how to better reach consumers.

Cultural Psychology

The study of the effect of culture and ethnicity on individuals.

Forensic Psychology

The psychological study of the law and criminal investigation.

Media Psychology

An area of psychology that examines the relationship between different forms of media, like television, and individuals in contact with them.

School Psychology

An area that performs a variety of tasks aimed at improving the situations of students, like emotional and social support, vocational counseling, and detecting and treating learning disabilities.

Social Psychology

Study issues of human behavior in relationship with others; issues like conformity, attitudes toward time, personal space, persuasion, friendship, etc.