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Social Psychology Careers and Salaries

Learn how to become a social personality psychologist.

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Social-personality psychology observes individual personality traits while people interact with others on a social level.

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 Thought

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?

The Five Factor Model

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  • Sociability as opposed to withdrawn.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.

In short, social psychology examines how human beings react to and are affected by social conditions, while personality psychology studies how people differ from each other. By combining these two fields of study, social-personality psychologists work to understand human nature and how people interact with, relate to and influence each other.

What They Do

Social-personality psychologists perform the following duties:

  • Teach at colleges and universities
  • Conduct research in the field, in clinics or through historical archives
  • Work as political strategists and union organizers
  • Design and evaluate educational programs
  • Teach individuals and crowds about nonviolent conflict resolution
  • Apply personality tests to individuals and groups of people
  • Mediate group discussions
  • Educate the population on discrimination, prejudice, intergroup relations, and cultural and human diversity

Where They Can Work

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.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics, the median national annual salary for sociologists is $98,590 while psychologists earned $90,130. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. 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. Because of the wide array of career opportunities available to social-personality psychologists, it is hard to accurately estimate the median annual income for these professionals.

Work Environment

Social-personality psychologists are employed in a wide variety of work settings:

  • University classrooms
  • Research labs and clinics
  • Corporations and nonprofit agencies

In these environments they may perform these exceptional tasks along with the above duties:

  • Comb historical archives for clues about the social and individual makeup of past societies.
  • Concentrate their efforts on current social issues such as organizing peacefully for the group rights of migrant workers, gay and lesbian families, and other minority groups who are socially marginalized.
  • Dedicate their time to perfecting and administering personality tests.

Training and Education

Many aspiring social-personality psychologists start with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology or anthropology. Interning with a professor who is researching human behavior and personality provides additional exposure to the field.

While most social-personality psychologists complete a doctorate program in this field, it is possible to find work with only a two-year Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) degree. In general, a doctoral degree is preferred by employers and allows candidates more employment opportunities and a higher salary range.