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The problem begins with the term. "Psychology" implies the study of the human mind, but "social" moves the soft science outside into so many other battlefields--economies, geographies, climates, etc--so that the human choice factors are adumbrated by forces outside individual control. On the other hand, social psychology is able to deal with such group psychologies as cults, ethnicities, rebellious personalities, criminality, regional influences, and belief systems. How and why the individual behaves inside a society is a valuable aspect of the discipline.
I like the fact that social psychology looks at how people are influenced in social situations. I see kids subjected to all kinds of influences as a high school teacher, and anything that helps explain how these influences work is good to know.
I agree with the previous post in theory. The danger, in my opinion, is that social psychology is far from an exact science. By skewing data or adjusting sample groups or in other ways manipulating the observations and conclusions, social psychology can be made to support almost any interpretation or conclusion about most topics.
This can lead to individuals selecting the study and results that support their particular philosophy or position about a given question or situation and proclaiming that this "proves they are right." It's much too easy to take information out of context or to omit parts that don't fit your perceptions - even if those parts are just as legitimate as the parts you are emphasizing.
Social psychology (for my own benefit) is:
...a branch of psychology that studies individuals in the social context. In other words, it is the study of how and why people think, feel, and do the things they do depending upon the situation they are in.
This is an enormously important branch of this science in that problems that are affecting a segment of the population will generally affect an entire population, its effects far-reaching. What I think I like about it is that it provides those in need with a "fighting chance" at success in life. Everyone needs a foundation on which to build a life. The stronger the foundation, the better the life.
Perhaps what concerns me most is that society is so overridden with difficulties that I find it impossible to see not an end, but comprehensive programs based on social psychology to meet the needs of those struggling. There will always be problems, but when will be ever have enough money from the government and private donors to meet the enormous need? And personally, I could not do this kind of work, though I think it would be so fulfilling, but I think I would take too much to heart, take problems home with me, and become disenchanted or completely burnt out: there is not enough support for programs in this area.
I love social psychology because it gives insight into the minds of people, cultures, and society at large. Without this insight, I feel like some people would fail to understand and appreciate those different from themselves.
ON the other hand, I dislike social psychology because some people may tend to stereotype others based upon social "knowns."
The primary down side to social psychology, in my opinion, is the same disadvantage of psychology in general. Theory in psychology is an attempt to put an artificial construct on the messiness of human behavior, whether it be the individual alone or the individual in a social context. People seem to have a tendency to lock themselves in to one or a few constructs, and this is like those six blind men and the elephant.
I think that social psychology seeks to explain human nature, which is difficult to do. Any kind of social science is difficult to use to achieve certainty. People simply cannot be explained so precisely. However, the nature of the exploration is sometimes just as important. Studies can get a dialogue going, and get us thinking.
Its lack of exactitude as mentioned by others is clearly a problem of social psychology. Also a huge problem develops from what the "conventional wisdom" of a culture is to begin with since this often becomes the measuring rod for all other behaviors, etc. When Darwinism dominated the thinking, for instance, data was interpreted with this theory exerting an influence. Nowadays with the "everyone is beautiful and meaningful in his own way" thinking, there are other dangers to interpretation of data.
I like the idea that it attempts to explain the larger, more complex issues of our society, because only by understanding them can we begin to address them. However, I do think many people take it as a science, when all it can really do is propose theories and models for us to work with.
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