Social psychology is a branch of psychology which examines the impact of social influences on human behavior. This field is vast, encompassing a wide range of fields of study and several disciplines. This branch of psychology is also used in a range of disciplines and industries; many people utilize its principles without even being aware of it when they try to control a group, influence someone's opinion, or explain why someone behaves in a particular way.
The roots of social psychology were laid in the late 1800s, when psychology as a discipline was thriving in Europe. As the First World War drove many psychologists to the United States, social psychology began to arise as a distinct discipline in the 1920s. One of the major influences on the field was Kurt Lewin, who is called the “father” of the discipline by some people; other famous social psychologists include Zimbardo, Asch, Milgram, Festinger, Ross, and Mischel.
A social psychologist looks at the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of both individuals and groups. The field also examines interpersonal interaction, analyzing the way in which someone interacts with other people, whether on a singular basis or in the form of a large group. Social psychology also examines cultural influences like advertisements, books, films, television, and radio, looking at the ways in which these influences impact human behavior.
Like many scientists, social psychologists like to use empirical methods to conduct studies in their fields. These methods often involve experiments which can bring up complex ethical issues. One of the most infamous social psychology experiments was the Stanford Prison Experiment, which was ultimately shut down because it got out of control. Social psychologists rely on the efforts of ethics committees and review panels to ensure that their work is ethically allowable, in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of questionable experiments.
The study of social psychology can explain why people form mobs, how groups make decisions, which social conditions can lead to aberrant behavior, and a wide range of other things. Social psychologists are constantly learning more about human behavior and the science behind human interactions, looking at everything from why people fail to help people in need to what leads people to conform, even in ethically dubious situations.
If you want to learn more about this field of psychology, you may be able to take an introductory course at a local college in your area. You can also consult your library for a number of published texts on the subject, but beware; once you start studying the discipline, it can be hard to stop!