What Are the Four Theories of Social Psychology?


Martha Robinson

Social psychology is the scientific study of how people think, feel, and behave in social situations. This field of study is vast and encompasses a wide range of theories that help us understand human behavior. In this article, we will discuss the four major theories of social psychology.

Social Identity Theory

Social identity theory is a psychological theory that explains how people define themselves based on their membership in social groups. According to this theory, individuals categorize themselves as part of a group and then adopt the behaviors and attitudes associated with that group. This theory also explains how individuals compare their group with other groups, leading to feelings of superiority or inferiority.

Example: A person who identifies as an American might adopt American values and behaviors and compare themselves to other nationalities.

Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory was developed by Albert Bandura, a psychologist who believed that people learn by observing others. According to this theory, individuals learn new behaviors by watching the actions of others and then imitating them. This can include both positive and negative behaviors.

Example: Children learn appropriate classroom behavior by watching their teacher’s actions and imitating them.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Cognitive dissonance theory was proposed by Leon Festinger in 1957. This theory explains how people deal with conflicts between their beliefs or attitudes and their actions. According to this theory, when people experience cognitive dissonance (the discomfort caused by conflicting beliefs), they will take action to reduce the dissonance.

Example: A person who believes that smoking is harmful but still smokes may experience cognitive dissonance. To reduce this discomfort, they may either quit smoking or change their beliefs about the harmful effects of smoking.

Social Exchange Theory

Social exchange theory proposes that people make decisions based on the costs and benefits associated with those decisions. According to this theory, individuals engage in social relationships because they believe that the benefits outweigh the costs. This theory also explains that people will end relationships if they feel that the costs outweigh the benefits.

Example: A person might stay in a relationship because they believe that the emotional support and companionship they receive from their partner outweigh any negative aspects of the relationship.


These four theories are just a few examples of the many theories of social psychology. Each theory provides insight into how people think, feel, and behave in social situations. By understanding these theories, we can gain a better understanding of human behavior and use this knowledge to improve our interactions with others.