What Are the Main Theories in Social Psychology?


Jane Flores

Social psychology is a branch of psychology that is concerned with how people interact and influence each other in social settings. It explores the ways in which people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are shaped by their social environment. In this article, we will discuss the main theories in social psychology that have been developed over the years.

The Social Identity Theory

The Social Identity Theory was developed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner to explain the psychological processes that underlie intergroup discrimination and prejudice. According to this theory, individuals derive their self-concept from their membership in social groups, and they tend to view members of their own group more positively than members of other groups.

Key concepts:

  • Social categorization: The process of grouping people into categories based on shared characteristics.
  • Social identity: The part of an individual’s self-concept that is derived from their membership in a particular group.
  • Social comparison: The process of comparing oneself to others in order to evaluate one’s own abilities and opinions.

The Cognitive Dissonance Theory

The Cognitive Dissonance Theory was developed by Leon Festinger to explain how people deal with inconsistencies between their attitudes and behaviors. According to this theory, when individuals hold two or more inconsistent beliefs or attitudes, they experience psychological discomfort or dissonance.

Key concepts:

  • Cognitive dissonance: The psychological discomfort experienced by individuals when they hold two or more inconsistent beliefs or attitudes.
  • Selective exposure: The tendency for individuals to seek out information that supports their existing beliefs or attitudes.
  • Effort justification: The tendency for individuals to justify their efforts or sacrifices in order to reduce cognitive dissonance.

The Social Learning Theory

The Social Learning Theory was developed by Albert Bandura to explain how individuals learn from observing others. According to this theory, individuals learn new behaviors by observing the behaviors of others and the consequences of those behaviors.

  • Vicarious reinforcement: The process of learning through observing others being rewarded or punished for their behavior.
  • Self-efficacy: The belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.
  • Modeling: The process of imitating the behavior of others.

The Social Exchange Theory

The Social Exchange Theory was developed by George Homans to explain social interactions in terms of costs and benefits. According to this theory, individuals engage in social interactions that are likely to maximize their rewards and minimize their costs.

  • Cost-benefit analysis: The process of evaluating the costs and benefits of a particular social interaction.
  • Reciprocity: The tendency for individuals to return favors or good deeds.
  • Social norms: Shared expectations about appropriate behavior in social situations.

The Self-Perception Theory

The Self-Perception Theory was developed by Daryl Bem to explain how individuals form attitudes and beliefs about themselves based on their own behavior. According to this theory, individuals infer their own attitudes and beliefs from observing their own behavior.

  • Self-perception: The process of inferring one’s attitudes and beliefs from one’s own behavior.
  • Overjustification effect: The tendency for extrinsic rewards to decrease an individual’s intrinsic motivation for a task.
  • Social comparison theory: The idea that individuals evaluate themselves by comparing themselves with others.

In conclusion, these are some of the main theories in social psychology, each explaining how individuals are influenced by their social environment. Understanding these theories can help us better understand human behavior and interactions in social settings.