Mention the word “psychologist” and some people may think white coat and shrink’s couch, but psychologists also work in a variety of areas other than traditional mental health. Psychology is the study of mental processes and human behavior. Psychologists observe, interpret and record how people and animals relate to each other or react to the environment around them. Social psychologists refine that focus -- they study how people think and act as a result of their interactions with other people.
Research on Relationships
A social psychologist is all about relationships, whether it’s the one-on-one you have with your spouse, the coffee-klatch bunch at work or the mob effect of people at a rock concert. Social psychologists want to know why people think, feel or behave the way they do, as individuals or in groups. They may study racism -- how it starts, how it’s passed on from generation to generation and how it can be stopped. Others may be interested in the effects of workplace culture on productivity or office bullying.
A bachelor’s degree in psychology might help you get into a field such as business administration, politics or sales, but if you want to be successful in social psychology, better buckle down for at least a master’s degree and preferably a doctorate. A doctorate is pretty much mandatory for sociological research in psychology, so plan on hitting the books for about eight to ten years after high school. These graduate programs are competitive -- keep that GPA up to improve your chances. Expect to delve into topics such as introductory psychology, human behavior, experimental psychology, anthropology, statistics, and -- of course -- sociology.
Social psychologists are primarily researchers. You may spend your days observing people in a controlled setting such as lab or in real-life settings such as offices or even rock concerts. Some social psychologists conduct experiments on individual or group behavior. For example, a social psychologist might conduct an experiment in which a woman is exposed to constant nagging to see if it affects her mood or performance on a math test. Other researchers might observe the reactions of a group of people to a political speech. Surveys and polls are other tools you will use as a social psychologist.
Skills and Salary
If you choose a career as a social psychologist, you’ll need good math and communication skills. A research career means -- what else -- research, so you’ll need to know how and where to dig up even quite esoteric information. You need a healthy dose of what’s called social perceptiveness, which means being aware of how and why people react the way they do. You should also be able to wade into a big pile of data and reduce it to its component parts or put it all together for a big picture. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track social psychologists, but the average annual salary for psychologists was $85,830 in 2011.
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