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Social psychology

Social psychology is the study of the psychological basis of people's relationships with one another. Social psychologists investigate such processes as communication, cooperation, competition, decision making, leadership, and changes in attitude. 

Like other scientists, social psychologists begin their research by developing theories. They then collect evidence to support their theories. For example, the American social psychologist Leon Festinger developed the theory that people become uneasy when they learn new information that conflicts with what they already believe. He suggested that people would do much to avoid this uneasiness, which he called cognitive dissonance. To demonstrate Festinger's theory, researchers collected data showing that people who believe they are failures often avoid success, even when they can easily achieve it. Success would conflict with their belief in themselves as failures. 

Social psychologists often support their theories through experiments. For example, one study investigated how people's opinions of an essay were affected by the supposed sex of the author. People who believed the writer was a man had a higher opinion of the essay than those who thought the author was a woman. Social psychologists also use other sources of information, including public opinion surveys, recorded observations of behaviour, and statistics from government agencies. 

Many social psychologists teach and conduct research at colleges and universities. Others work for government agencies, businesses, or other organizations. They may help plan personnel programmes or measure the potential sale of new products. 

The first textbooks on social psychology were published in the early 1900's. Modern social psychology owes much to the behavioural psychologists of the 1930's, who called for the scientific study of observable behaviour. Today, social psychology continues to stress the precise measurement of people's actions. 

Another major influence on social psychology was the work of George Herbert Mead and Kurt Lewin. Mead, an American psychologist and philosopher, argued that people's ideas about themselves are developed through social contact. Lewin, a German-born psychologist, investigated how individuals in groups are affected by other members. Both Mead and Lewin claimed that behaviour depends primarily on how people interpret the social world. The work of these early researchers continues to influence social psychologists, who study people's perception of themselves and others.




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