Social psychology is the scientific examination of how a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the presence of others, both real and imagined. The implication of imagined presence indicates that human beings are influenced by others even when no others are present. In many ways, social psychology is the bridge between psychology and sociology.
Like most other fields of psychology, social psychology emerged in America in the early 1900s. Its development was expanded by the arrival of a number of German Gestalt psychologists fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s. Following World War II, there was great interest in studying persistent social problems, including racial and gender bias.
Social psychology maintains that a person’s attitudes are learned, and that they are basic expressions of likes and dislikes. However, because people are influenced by a specific situation, it is difficult to use attitudes as a predictor of behavior. Recently, social psychologists have begun to study the effects of persuasion, defined as the active method of influence designed to push people towards the adoption of a specific attitude, idea or behavior. There are at least five variables that influence the process of persuasion: the communicator, the message, the audience, the medium, and the context. There are both central and peripheral routes of persuasion. Central routes are more lasting, but peripheral routes, because they are superficial, are easier to achieve.