Social Psychology

Social psychology is an approach to understanding human social relations that focuses on individuals and how their interactions impact social organizations and social institutions. Social psychological scholarship includes a wide range of theoretical perspectives, methodological tools, and substantive applications originating from diverse intellectual schools such as sociology, psychology, economics, education, and business. Contemporary social psychology is best understood by examining its range of theoretical perspectives, methodological tools, and substantive foci.


Biography has long been a part of the social sciences, having been introduced in different disciplines as ”case histories” (psychiatry), ”life histories” (anthropology), ”personal documents” (sociology, psychology), and, more recently, ”life stories” (linguistics, oral history), each focused on understanding individuals as the unit of analysis. Recent years have seen more interdisciplinary dialogue seeking to redefine […]


An account, as the term is most commonly used in sociology, refers to statements that explain disruptions in the social and moral order. In this sense, accounts are linguistic devices by which actors attempt to reposition themselves as socially acceptable and morally reputable in the face of imputations of deviance or failure. Although the concept […]

Affect Control Theory

Affect control theory (ACT) is grounded in symbolic interactionist insights about the importance of using language and symbols to define situations. The theory begins with the assertion that people reduce uncertainty by developing ”working understandings” of their social worlds. They label parts of social situations, using language available to them. After creating this definition, they […]

Asch Experiments

Solomon Asch (1907-96) conducted pioneering social psychological experiments on group conformity, and processes of person perception. His conformity experiments are of particular importance. In these experiments, college students were told they were participating in a study on visual perception (by matching the length of one line to three others). In truth, the experiment was intended […]

Attitudes and Behavior

The role of attitudes in guiding behavior is an enduring social psychological concern. Two explanatory paradigms have emerged. One approach is grounded in positivism and deductive theorizing. The other is inductive and phenomenological, emphasizing process and construction. Gordon Allport in the mid-1930s (1935: ”Attitudes”), articulated the positivist approach, when he defined attitudes as mental states […]

Authority and Conformity

A common phenomenon in social groups (some would say a requirement) is the existence of authority: the right or power to give orders and enforce standards. Authority is only meaningful if people comply with those rules and orders. Conformity, compliance with orders and standards, is the corollary to authority. Macro-level perspectives tend to focus on […]


Behaviorism was a dominant school of American psychological thought from the 1930s through the 1960s. Its principal founder, John B. Watson, clearly defined behaviorism as follows: ”Psychology, as the behaviorist views it, is a purely objective branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. The behaviorist recognizes no dividing […]

Peter Blau

Peter Blau is one of the most influential figures in post-war American sociology. His long career and range of substantive interests span the range from small-groups and social exchange theory to organizational theory, the analysis of status attainment, and finally general sociological theory. In spite of its apparent ”heterogeneity,” it can be argued that a […]

Herbert George Blumer

Herbert George Blumer emerged from a rural Missouri background and matured into an internationally acclaimed scholar (University of Missouri, BA 1921, MA 1922; University of Chicago, PhD, 1928) whose work defined a pioneering and enduringly relevant theoretical and methodological position in sociology and social psychology. He taught at Chicago from 1928 until 1951, leaving there […]

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Cognitive dissonance theory posits that individuals seek to maintain consistency among multiple cognitions (e.g., thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, values, beliefs). Inconsistent cognitions produce unpleasant arousal that leads individuals to reduce dissonance by: (1) changing one’s cognition so that all cognitions are in agreement, (2) adopting cognitions that strengthen the ”desirable” cognition, or (3) reducing the importance […]

Charles Horton Cooley

Charles Horton Cooley was a prominent member of the founding generation of American sociologists. Named a full professor of sociology at the University of Michigan in 1907, he was then elected president of the American Sociological Association in 1918. It was his aim and achievement to apply the ideas of pragmatism to the development of […]

Definition of the Situation

The term ”definition of the situation” has come to signify the ”Thomas theorem,” the idea expressed by W. I. Thomas as follows: ”If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas & Thomas 1928: 571-2). That is, when the phrase is used, it usually carries with it the connotation of the […]


The smallest and most elementary social unit, a dyad is a social group composed of two members while a triad is a social group composed of three members. Most structural conditions and social processes are found in dyadic and triadic interaction. The analysis of dyads and triads clearly demonstrates the poverty of strict psychological reductionism. […]

Cultural Aspects of Emotions

The relationship between emotions and culture has been discussed ever since there was interest in what it means to be human, and since then that relationship has been contrastingly characterized as either inimical or reconcilable. Culture can be understood as the defining values, meanings, and thoughts of a local, national, or supranational community. When emotions […]

Social Psychological Aspects of Emotions

The sociological study of emotion rests on a two-stage theory. The first stage is an internal state of biological arousal, and the second is a reflexive process using situational cues to interpret or identify which emotion is an appropriate response in that situation (Rosenberg 1990: ”Reflexivity and emotions”). There may also be a third process […]


Ethnomethodology (EM) is the study of people’s methods of producing and reproducing recognizable orders and phenomena in social life. This program gained significant attention in sociology following the publication of Harold Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology in 1967 (see Garfinkel & Rawls 2010 [1967]). The prefix ”ethno-” refers to ”social members” or ”members of a local […]

Exchange Network Theory

An exchange network is a system of two or more connected exchange relations (Emerson 1962). Two exchange relations are connected if exchange in one relation affects exchange in the other. Exchange network theories explain how network structures affect power distributions, power exercise, and the benefits network members gain in exchanges. NETWORK CONNECTIONS Power-dependence (PD) theorists […]

Existential Sociology

Existential sociology emerged in the late 1970s as the most recent version of everyday life sociology. Writers in this perspective have attempted to integrate symbolic interactionism’s powerful concepts of the self and the situation, phenomenological sociology’s emphasis on the social construction of reality, and ethnomethodology’s telling critique of conventional sociological theory and methods, with an […]

Experimental Methods in Social Psychology

An experiment is a research method for which an investigator plans, builds or otherwise controls the conditions under which phenomena are observed. Experiments are used rarely in sociology where they are concentrated in the subfields of group processes and social psychology. There are two distinct types of experiments – empiricist and theory-driven experiments (Willer and […]


The concept of ”facework” was articulated by Erving Goffman (1967/1955). He provides a model of human interaction in which individuals’ subjective perceptions are central. It is a matter of self-regulation and the ritual recreation of ”face.” He defines ”face” as ”the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself.” If a person makes ”a […]