About Social Personality Psychology

Why do we act the way we do? Read how social personality psychologists create a profile of “us.”


Social personality psychologists study people—why we act as we do and how personality is shaped; traits, attitudes, likes and prejudices greatly inform a personality psychologist’s research and findings.

As much as human beings differ, those with a degree in social personality psychology also have differing schools of thought.

In fact, the field is as divided and unique as the subjects they study.

The Roots of Social Personality Psychology

Not surprisingly, Sigmund Freud factored strongly in the roots of social personality psychology development, and his theories still comprise a firm base for the field. Freud’s theory that character is fate and is based in elemental human nature nevertheless was in conflict with opposing theories by Franz Boas, the father of cultural anthropology. Boas factored that people’s actions were determined instead by the culture in which they live, and are formed by external forces created by that environmental influence.

Schools of Social Personality Psychology

Most psychologists subscribe to either Freud or Boas’ school of thought. The components of these schools that draw the most disagreements between professional psychologists with a degree in social personality psychology include:

  • Freedom vs. determinism–do we have control over our behavior or are our behaviors formed by external forces beyond our control?
  • Heredity vs. environment–is personality determined by genetics and biology or by environment and experiences—or by some combination of both?
  • Unique vs. universal–are we unique in nature or are humans all essentially similar but impacted by deterministic factors?
  • Active vs. reactive–do we act by our own initiatives or are we reacting to external stimuli?
  • Optimism vs. pessimism–can we change our personality, which is considered an optimistic trait, or are we destined to remain the same throughout life?

Regardless of which school of thought a social personality psychologist adheres to, both sides agree that actions are determined by stable and enduring

The Big Five Factor Model of Social Personality Psychology

The Big Five factor describes the structure of what social personality psychologists deem the accepted model of normal personality. These five components include:

  • Emotional stability, including calm and steady as opposed to anxious, insecure and emotional.
  • Agreeable as opposed to disagreeable and cold.
  • Sociability as opposed to withdrawn.
  • Conscientiousness versus impulsive, irresponsible and lazy behavior.
  • Intellect and the degree of curiosity, imagination and broad-mindedness versus narrow-mindedness and literalness.

Where You Can Work

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook, the field of psychology will enjoy a 14 percent growth rate through 2026, which is much faster than average. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. These psychology school graduates can find employment in organizational consultation, marketing research, systems design or other applied psychology fields. Many social psychologists specialize in group behavior, leadership and attitudes and perception.

Sources: Hoganassessments.com/history-of-personality; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists


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