Social Psychology

The social approach in psychology has highlighted many interesting features of human social behaviour. This approach focuses on studying individuals within a social context and therefore assumes that behaviour is largely shaped by factors within ones environment.

This scientific study of human behaviour is concerned with studying individual behaviour within social situations, such as family, friends, institutions, and wider society and argues that behaviour is influenced by the actual, implied or imagined presence of others.

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Assumptions of the approach

  • Behaviour is influenced by other people and the social context in which it occurs
  • Behaviour is shaped by the surrounding environment and therefore people learn by observing others
  • Behaviour should be studied scientifically by observing how people behave in social situations

Core Studies

The three core studies covered by this approach are as follows:

  • Milgram (1963)
  • Reicher and Haslam (2006)
  • Piliavin and Piliavin (1969)

Evaluation of the approach


+ Provides useful contributions to the understanding of social behaviour

+ Attempts to conduct research within real life settings, and therefore is high in ecological validity

+ Has provided many practical applications for society (e.g. the running of prisons)


– Underestimates the role of individual differences and personality in explaining human behaviour

– Tends to breach ethical guidelines and therefore may cause some level of harm to participants within research

– Explanations can be deterministic, as they assume that all behaviour is the result of social processes

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