GuidesResearch methods11 social psychology research topics to explore in 2024

11 social psychology research topics to explore in 2024

Last updated

6 March 2024

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Dovetail Editorial Team

Social psychology is a constantly evolving field of study. It explores how our environment and other people influence our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and goals. Social psychology uncovers how social interaction, perception, and influence impact individuals and groups. 

Since social psychology encompasses a wide range of subjects, it can be challenging to choose a topic for research

Taking a specific path to follow your interests and learn more about available areas can narrow your focus to find the ideal research project. 

Let’s take a look at current topics in social psychology to inspire your research. 

Understanding social psychology research

Psychologists conduct experiments to better understand how different environmental factors and the influence of other people shape feelings and behaviors. 

Research projects explore various topics, from how a position of power can change behavior to the impact of positive social interactions. 

Various research designs allow researchers to develop projects that range from observational to experimental. 

What is an example of social psychology research?

Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment explored how perceived power influences behavior. 

Zimbardo randomly assigned college students the roles of prison guards or prisoners in a simulated prison environment. Despite knowing their roles were random, the guards exhibited increasing cruelty towards the prisoners. 

Researchers halted the study after six days due to extreme psychological distress. It revealed the profound impact of social roles and situations on human behavior, highlighting how people can adopt negative behaviors when given authority, even in a controlled setting.

How to choose social psychology research topics

Social psychology is a diverse, highly studied area of science, so developing a unique project on a relevant topic can be challenging. 

When choosing a subject, begin by exploring your interests. After considering questions you'd like answers to and topics that intrigue you, narrow your scope. Explore specific areas of research, research designs, and subtopics. 

Once you've narrowed down your choices, seek literature and past studies on the subject. Consider how past research can raise additional questions about the topic. 

Develop your ideas by determining how to measure and test your research questions. 

Once you have a firm plan for your project, talk to your instructor for advice and approval before launching your studies. 

Social psychology research topics

Social psychology has many nuances that influence human beliefs and behavior. Various elements of situations and relationships affect short- and long-term emotions and actions. 

The major research areas in social psychology are an ideal starting point to investigate as part of a psychology research project. 

These key focus areas within social psychology can be compelling psychology research topics:

1. Attitudes and attitude change

Research projects surrounding attitudes generally examine the components of attitudes and how they develop and can be changed. 

The three components of attitude are affective, behavioral, and cognitive. They’re also known as the ABCs. 

We form attitudes through a combination of upbringing, experience, and genetics. People can self-measure them in surveys or through researchers’ observations. 

Attitudes can change due to influence and environmental factors. They hugely affect human behavior, making them an important research topic in social psychology.

2. Attachment and relationships

Social connections shape our lives from the earliest moments, taking various forms that significantly impact our well-being. These connections have numerous advantages, such as heightened happiness and satisfaction. 

Social psychology explores these connections, examining diverse attachment styles to explain love, friendship, and attraction. 

Research in this domain investigates the repercussions of poorly formed social bonds and seeks to answer questions about how relationships influence group behavior. 

Additionally, studies in social psychology dissect the elements contributing to attraction, shedding light on the intricate dynamics that shape our social bonds and interactions. 

3. Authority and leadership

As revealed in the Stanford Experiment, authority can directly affect behavior. 

However, social psychology can further delve into the dynamics of people interacting with those in leadership roles. 

Milgram's Obedience to Authority study exemplifies this exploration. Stanley Milgram wanted to investigate how easily authority figures could influence people to commit atrocities.

In this study, participants assumed the role of teachers administering electric shocks to learners for incorrect answers. 65% delivered 450 volts of electricity under the directive of an authority figure. 

Research can consider the positive or negative elements of authority based on specific applications, settings, and environments. 

For example, we might consider obedience to authority positive in the workplace or classroom.

4. Groups

Social psychology research about groups delves into how behavior changes in group settings. 

Groups form for various reasons, and everything from leadership to group dynamics can impact how people behave. These behavioral changes can be beneficial or harmful. 

Research into group behavior can focus on decision-making, internal conflicts, conflicts with other groups, how groups affect individual identities, and much more. 

Studies can also investigate how positive group behaviors can influence someone. 

5. Prejudice

Prejudice and discrimination take different forms, which people may not be aware of. The origin and consequences of prejudice present many topics of study for researchers. 

Topics related to how prejudices form and why people maintain inaccurate stereotypes can uncover why people depend on stereotypes to make decisions. 

Many studies focus on the effects of discrimination and how to reduce prejudice. 

Research in this category can overlap with many other categories. For instance, group behavior and social influences can contribute to the formation of stereotypes and social categorization. 

6. Self and social identity

Many elements form the human perception of self. How we perceive ourselves may be substantially different from the viewpoint of others. 

Social psychologists are interested in learning how a person’s self-perception can influence factors like behavior and internal feelings like confidence. 

Our concept of self derives from various sources, such as abilities, social comparisons, interactions with others, and status. 

Researching how the perception of the inner self impacts social behaviors can unveil how social factors influence critical feelings like self-esteem. 

7. Pro- and anti-social behavior

How people’s social surroundings impact the way they respond to certain situations is defined as pro- or anti-social behavior. 

Positive and negative behaviors are based on accepted social norms. How someone responds during a specific event can reinforce or undermine those norms. 

For example, helping a stranger is prosocial, while vandalism is antisocial behavior. 

Studies have shown that prosocial behavior is contagious: Those who experience or observe it are more likely to help others. 

Antisocial behavior can have a similar effect but in a negative direction. Observing seemingly harmless acts, like littering and graffiti, can weaken social norms. This potentially invites more dangerous antisocial behavior.

Researchers can elaborate on this knowledge to consider why people help others without considering personal costs. They can also dig into what deters someone from taking an action they know is "the right thing to do." 

Exploring how society impacts positive and negative behaviors can shed light on ways to reduce negative behavior.

8. Social influence

Persuasion, peer pressure, obedience, and conformity are all forms of social influence. Like other areas of social psychology, these influences can be positive or negative. 

One of the earliest studies on social influence was Soloman Asch’s Conformity Line Experiment

Researchers put a participant in a test with seven conformists without knowing the conformists weren't true participants. Researchers asked them to compare the image of a target line with lines A, B, and C on another image. 

Early in the experiment, all conformists answered correctly, followed by the participant, who was always last. 

After a few rounds, the conformists began to provide wrong answers unanimously. On average, about a third of participants followed along with conformists to confirm clearly incorrect answers. 75% of participants confirmed at least one wrong answer. 

The control group had no conformists. Less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer. 

Doctor and author Robert Cialdini takes the concept of influence further. He identified six universal principles of influence and persuasion to help people defend against dishonest influences. 

His studies conclude that these influences can sway people:

  • Reciprocation: The feeling we should repay what someone has provided

  • Social proof: When unsure about a decision, we follow the actions of others 

  • Liking: We generally agree with people we like and want them to agree with us

  • Authority: We are more likely to say yes to authority figures

  • Scarcity: We want more of what is less available

  • Commitment and consistency: Once we make a choice, we follow it with corresponding actions to justify the decision (even if we no longer believe in the choice)

Researchers can study how social influence guides the decision-making process and explore the positive and negative effects of conformity. Other experiments can explore the consequences of peer pressure and whether it can be beneficial. 

9. Social cognition

In the most basic sense, cognition is the brain gathering and understanding knowledge through sensations, thoughts, and experiences. It allows us to make sense of new information. 

Social cognition is how the brain processes information about individuals and groups of people. It includes the role of heuristics. These mental shortcuts enable us to function without constantly stopping to interpret everything in the environment. 

Research under the umbrella of social cognition can explore first impressions, how appearance affects our judgment, and how social interactions affect behavior. 

These studies can help psychologists understand how someone’s perception of social norms affects their self-image and behavior.

10. Violence and aggression

Exploration into violence and aggression attempts to better understand the factors and situations that cause aggression and how it impacts behaviors. 

Several types of aggressive behavior exist, ranging from gossiping to physical violence. Studies in this area examine the different types of aggression and the variables contributing to aggressive behavior. 

For instance, a pattern of aggression may relate to witnessing the behavior of a family member or traumatic experiences. Conversely, situational variables may trigger a single incidence of aggression.

A greater understanding of the role of social learning in aggressive behavior can lead to research about how social norms and public policy can decrease violent behavior. 

Learning more about the variables contributing to aggression and violence means researchers can use new knowledge to work toward solutions. 

11. Social representations

Social representations are a form of heuristics: a set of beliefs that make something unfamiliar easily understood. They allow people to apply specific bits of evidence-based data to individuals’ or groups’ actions to make ideas more familiar. 

Researchers may study the role of social representations in making new psychological or scientific information accessible to the average person. Studies may explore how we make sense of new information and how people organize and separate facts for rapid learning.

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