What I would like to be informed about regarding social psychology is all the ways and applications in which this concept can be understood and applied. Not just in scholarly situations but in every-day activities, among friends, at work, or in social situation. Having a good understanding of any aspect of psychology for a student (or any alert person) in these times is helpful and the pursuit of that understanding brings insight and knowledge.
What the learner hypothesizes vis-a-vis what he may discover in the literature
The discoveries that are available in the literature are going to be fun to explore, and I have a clue that they will relate to human behavior from a scientific perspective. I would imagine those scholarly journals will likely relate to leadership, to social behaviors from the perspective of individuals and from the perspective of a group, why certain people act the way they do and how people respond to mean spirited situations, how prejudice and bias play a role in social behavior, and other psychological aspects of social behaviors.
This field is always interesting to me, because every new thing that is learned in a psychology context either reminds me of some situation I've been in, or reminds me of someone I have known, or simply points out why humans behave the way they do.
Review of current literature on social psychology
Kendra Cherry explains that social psychology is not just about reviewing social influences, but rather perceptions in a social setting, and the dynamics of social interaction are also part of this field of study (Cherry, 2008). Cherry's narrative in about.com (owned by The New York Times) explains that social psychology didn't really become a field of research until after World War II. "The horrors of the Holocaust" provided the impetus for researchers to give time to the study of "social influences" (conformity and obedience), Cherry writes. The range of topics to be covered in social psychology include leadership, nonverbal behavior (i.e., body language), conformity, aggression and prejudice, Cherry continues.
How is it different from other disciplines? Cherry notes that social psychology is often confused with "folk wisdom, personality psychology and sociology"; but unlike folk wisdom, social psychology embraces "…scientific methods and the empirical study of social phenomena" (p. 1). Folk wisdom, on the other hand, relies mostly on "anecdotal observations and subjective interpretation"; and personality psychology zeros in on "individual traits, characteristics and thoughts" but social psychology is concerned with "situations," Cherry continues (p. 1).
What social psychologists are mainly interested in exploring is the "impact that the social environment and group interactions have on attitudes and behaviors" (Cherry, p. 1). Moreover, sociology looks at social behavior from a "broad-based level" and sociologists are engaged in research on the cultural and institutional influences that explain human behavior (Cherry, p. 1). But psychologists are interested in "situational variables that affect social behavior," which entails looking at the topics sociologists look at but from a different perspective (Cherry, p. 1).
Meanwhile professor Hunter Gehlbach (Harvard Graduate School of Education) writes in the journal Educational Psychological Review that there are "scores of empirically grounded, fundamental principles" connected to the study of social psychology (Gehlbach, 2010, p. 349). The problem is many if not most of the principles that social psychologists have "amassed" have yet to be brought into the classroom, Gehlbach asserts (349). Hence, the author insists that these principles should be and could be infused into learning environments; and when they are incorporated into instructors' repertoires, they will have the potential to do several important things: a) they hold "untapped potential to improve pedagogy"; b) these principles have the ability to "motivate students"; and c) the principles that are already available to professors and instructors have the "…capacity to enrich students' understanding of subject matter" (Gehlbach, 349).
Gehlbach takes an interesting route to informing readers about the need for instructors to embrace classes in social psychology, or at least to bring the subject into existing psychology and sociology classes. Rather than point to the advantages of having social psychology become an interesting course of examination for students, he lists the things that won't happen because this field is being ignored. Hence, his initial approach (p. 350) is to make a powerful point about the price to be paid when the study of social psychology is ignored in the classroom.
First, he points to the problem in education of "achievement gaps" (i.e., minorities, particularly African-American and Latino students tend to score well below Asians and Caucasians) and asserts that by ignoring the "social aspects of school" it will likely "reify discrepancies between racial groups" (Gehlbach, 350). Teachers that do not "de-bias their perceptions and expectations of students" may find that they are fostering "differential achievement outcomes for students of different races" (Gehlbach, 350). Clearly the student population in American schools, colleges and universities is becoming more and more diversified, and hence education has become even more vitally important in the workforce -- which translates into an argument as to the urgency to attend to this disparity and these discrepancies (Gehlbach, 350).
Secondly, Gehlback posits that students who experience a "diminished sense of belonging" in school are far less apt to be engaged with their studies and motivated to learn more; indeed, those without a sense of belonging are more likely to become part of the growing dropout statistics (350). It is worrisome to Gehlback that Latinos -- the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States -- have a dropout rate of over 20%, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics). He clearly believes that by instituting social psychology studies into the classroom Latinos will have a sense of belonging they don't have now.
Thirdly, Gehlbach believes that the way in which schools are ignoring the "social facets of school" has "troubling implications for school safety" (350). He's alluding to bullying, school shootings and cyber bullying, and psychological safety; and he asserts that the social climate in schools has "a tremendous impact on the extent to which students feel safe" (350). The professor isn't just talking about students' needs to understand the social psychology of educational dynamics; he's saying teachers need to be brought up to speed. And his definition that teachers need to relate to is quite succinct: "social psychology is the scientific study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another" (351).
What should an introductory social psychology course consist of? George J. McCall, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri (St. Louis) believes that there are three different visions as to how social psychology can be distinguished. The first approaches social psychology as a "single discipline" that is pursued by psychologists and sociologists. They may have different training and have different viewpoints on the concepts involved in social psychology, but, McCall assures, they "…seek answers to essentially the same questions" (McCall, 1984, p. 128).
The second approach for teaching social psychology would entail a "parallel specialization within both sociology and psychology" -- and it would be modeled after a course in linguistics that an English department or an anthropology department typically would have set up. The third approach to establishing a course in social psychology, according to McCall, would involve combining two "complimentary fields of learning" into one title. For example, McCall suggests "Psychosociology" or "sociopsychology" for starters (128). Granted, this scholarly article was published in 1984, but based on what Gehlbach has put forward, there remains (twenty-six years later) a great need to get social psychology into the curricula of high schools and colleges -- and especially teachers and professors need to be brought up to speed.
What have other authors written and researched vis-a-vis social psychology?