Why Is Social Psychology Not Just Common Sense?


Jane Flores

Why Is Social Psychology Not Just Common Sense?

When it comes to understanding human behavior, many people rely on their intuition or common sense. After all, we interact with others every day, so shouldn’t we have a natural understanding of social psychology?

While common sense may provide some insights, social psychology goes beyond what may seem obvious. In this article, we will explore why social psychology is not just common sense.

The Complexity of Human Behavior

Human behavior is complex and multifaceted. It is influenced by various factors such as culture, environment, upbringing, and individual differences. Social psychology delves deep into these complexities to understand the underlying processes that drive human behavior.

Social Influence:

Social influence is a fundamental concept in social psychology. It refers to the ways in which people are influenced by others in their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. While it may seem like common sense that people are influenced by those around them, social psychologists examine the mechanisms behind this influence.


  • One classic study conducted by Solomon Asch demonstrated the power of conformity. Participants were shown a line and asked to match it with one of three other lines.

    However, when confederates deliberately gave incorrect answers, many participants conformed and also provided the wrong response. This study highlights how individuals may go against their own judgment due to social pressure.

  • While some aspects of conformity may align with common sense, social psychologists delve deeper into understanding why and when people conform. They examine factors such as group dynamics, informational influence, and normative influence to provide a comprehensive understanding of this phenomenon.


  • In Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience study, participants were instructed to administer electric shocks to another person, who was actually an actor. Despite the potential harm, many participants obeyed the experimenter’s commands.

    This study shed light on the power of authority and obedience.

  • Social psychologists explore the underlying mechanisms that drive obedience, such as the role of perceived legitimacy of authority figures and situational factors that influence compliance. This goes beyond common sense by uncovering the nuances behind why people may blindly follow instructions.

Biases and Heuristics

Another area where social psychology differs from common sense is in understanding biases and heuristics that affect our judgments and decision-making processes.

Confirmation Bias:

Confirmation bias refers to our tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or expectations. While this bias may seem obvious in hindsight, social psychologists study the various ways it manifests and influences our perception of reality.

The Availability Heuristic:

The availability heuristic is another cognitive bias where we rely on immediate examples or instances that easily come to mind when making judgments or decisions. Social psychologists explore how this heuristic affects our perceptions of risk, stereotypes, and even political beliefs.

The Power of Situations

Situations play a significant role in shaping human behavior, often more than we might initially realize. Social psychologists examine how different situations can influence individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Social Roles:

  • Stanley Milgram’s study on social roles demonstrated how individuals can adopt specific roles and behave accordingly. In his experiment, participants were assigned either the role of a “teacher” or a “learner.” The study revealed how individuals conform to their assigned roles, even when it goes against their moral compass.
  • By studying social roles, social psychologists provide insights into how individuals’ behavior can be influenced by the expectations associated with different roles they assume in various contexts.

Social Norms:

Social norms are unwritten rules that guide behavior within a society or group. While common sense may suggest that people generally follow social norms, social psychologists investigate the factors that influence norm formation and how individuals conform or deviate from these norms.


In conclusion, while common sense may provide some understanding of human behavior, social psychology goes beyond surface-level observations. It delves into the complexities of human behavior, explores biases and heuristics that affect our thinking, and examines the power of situations in shaping our actions. By studying social psychology, we gain a deeper understanding of why people behave the way they do, allowing us to make more informed judgments and decisions.