Expert Contributor

Nicholas DiFonzo

Nicholas DiFonzo, PhD (Temple University, 1994) is Professor of Psychology at Rochester Institute of Technology. He has published over 50 articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries and technical reports on rumor. His books include “Rumor Psychology: Social & Organizational Approaches” (written with Prashant Bordia), and “The Watercooler Effect: A Psychologist Explores the Extraordinary Power of Rumors.” He has been interviewed by numerous radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, and online media, including Talk of The Nation, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

Social psychologists have a number of job options available to them and can work at colleges and universities, government agencies, non-profit organizations, hospitals, and private companies. In order to pursue these careers, professionals need to complete a graduate-level social psychology degree.

Psychology is an expansive professional scientific field focusing on the study of human behavior. Psychologists and mental health professionals work in a number of specialty areas, including the following:

Starting Your Social Psychology Career

There are several educational paths that lead to a career in social psychology. Students at the bachelor’s level may earn a degree in social psychology, or a general psychology degree with a social psychology concentration. Students can then work towards obtaining a master’s degree in social psychology. On the doctoral level, social psychology students may earn a PhD or a PsyD.

Learn more about Social Psychology Degrees

Groundbreaking Social Psychology Research:The Stanford Prison Experiment
What is it?

A study which placed people into 2 groups: guards and prisoners. The study was funded by the U.S. Navy and Marines to find out why there are natural conflicts between guards and prisoners. Willing, paid participants played the roles of prisoners and guards.


August, 1971


Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo


To learn more about the psychology of imprisonment from the point of view of the imprisoned and those in charge.


Stanford University

What Happened?

The experiment was abandoned after only six days because the “guards” were being abusive and the “prisoners” were experiencing emotional disturbance that was deemed to be harmful to their mental health. Psychology researchers learned valuable information about cognitive dissonance theory, situational attribution, and authoritative power.

What Social Psychologists Do

Social psychology is a rewarding career that contributes to the understanding of social behavior and comes with many job responsibilities. The specific duties of social psychologists vary depending on where they work. The following are some examples of their required tasks:

Observing the behavior of people in controlled or real-life settings

Helping businesses train employees

Assisting companies during the employee recruitment process

Working with government agencies to draft public policies

Consulting with advertising professionals on how to craft successful marketing campaigns

Teaching students at colleges or universities

Working with politicians on campaign strategies

Helping organizations mediate conflict

Crafting surveys and polls for market research firms

Working with school districts on educational programs

Interview with a Social Psychology Professional

One way to learn about the realities of a profession is to get information from someone in the field. We spoke to Nicholas DiFonzo, a psychology professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, to get his views on this career path.

What are some of the things you find interesting about social psychology?

Social psychology is very much concerned with the inter-relational aspects of persons and groups; that is, social psychology is the study of how people and groups think about, influence and relate to self and one another. Topics include social perception, social cognition, conformity, compliance, obedience, attitudes, persuasion, group processes, prejudice, aggression, pro-social behavior, conflict management, attraction, close relationships, and marriage. I find all of these topics intrinsically interesting, as do most students and persons, because this is a large part of the “stuff” of living.

What does social psychology research entail?

Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, social psychologists gotta experiment. Because most social psychologists are interested in making strong causal inferences, they tend to focus on performing true experiments in which an independent variable is manipulated, and an outcome (dependent) variable is measured.

Why is social psychology important in our day-to-day lives?

My answer to that is wisdom, because social psychology relates to just about everything a human experiences. Why is that person smiling at me? Will my professor be a hard grader? How might I persuade my neighbor to keep his cats off my car? Why did that person gossip about me? How can I belong to my social group? How do I know if I’m in love or have the flu? These—and just about all other questions pertaining to self, other, and self-other relationships—are all questions that social psychology has attempted to study rigorously.

What makes a good social psychologist?

Social psychologists are generally committed to scientific methods, and therefore the values of a good social psychologist are those of a good scientist: curiosity, moderate skepticism, and honesty. To these I would add: insight about self and relationships. While social psychology studies people using empirical data, to understand people also requires some “inside” knowledge: that is, knowledge about what it is like to be a person embedded in a web of relationships.

How does social psychology differ from other branches of the psychology field?

While the objects of study for most of psychology varies, it is typically the individual. Developmental psychology focuses on the psychological, cognitive, emotional, or social development of a person through life stages. The objects of study in social psychology are also individuals, but additionally include the inter-relationships between people (interpersonal relationships) and within groups (group dynamics). Social psychology is just this side of sociology, which studies aggregate characteristics of groups. Thus, unlike other branches of psychology, the unit of analysis of social psychology can range from individual to group.

Becoming a Social Psychologist

There are a number of steps social psychologists need to take in order to enter the field. Social Psychologists are generally required to:

Receive a bachelor’s degree in general or social psychology

Complete a master’s degree in social psychology

Earn a doctoral level degree in social psychology

Obtain a state license (if planning to work in a clinical setting)

For more information about how to become a social psychologist, log on to our degree page.

Certification and Licensure of Social Psychologists

Social psychologists are typically not required to obtain a license, but if aspiring to work in clinical practice they’ll need to be licensed in their state. Every state has different standards for issuing licenses to psychologists, but they are generally mandated to earn a doctorate, complete a clinical internship, work in the field for a few years, and pass a state licensing examination.

Social psychologists are also not required to obtain professional certifications, but they can be helpful in demonstrating expertise in the field. Employers may sometimes prefer to hire candidates who have earned certifications. Though no specific social psychology certifications available, professionals may elect to earn a credential in another area of psychology. The American Board of Professional Psychology offers certifications in specialties such as clinical, forensic, counseling, group, and organizational psychology.

Social Psychology Career Paths

Social psychology applies to many areas of life, from the workplace to the classroom, which means there are a number of career options for those who study this discipline. The following are examples of careers those with social psychology degrees may wish to pursue.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

These professionals lend their expertise in the workplace environment. They help companies improve the quality of the workplace and also help with productivity, morale, organizational development and more.

Employment rates for industrial/organizational psychologists are expected to grow at a staggering 53% 2012-2022.

Postsecondary Teachers

Teaching at a college or university is a common choice for social psychology graduates. These professionals use their expertise in the field to develop lesson plans and assignments; create, administer, and grade tests; and address students’ questions and concerns about a course. College professors in this area of academia also frequently conduct and publish original research.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that from 2012 to 2022, jobs for postsecondary teachers will increase by 19 percent.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Social psychologists can use their knowledge of human behavior to create advertising and marketing campaigns focused on getting consumers excited about a product. These professionals may obtain jobs as advertising, promotions, and marketing managers. This job entails creating advertising campaigns, negotiating contracts, analyzing customer behavior, and meeting with clients.

Between 2012 and 2022, this profession will grow by 12 percent.

Research Psychologist

Research psychologists conduct experiments on a number of topics related to human actions, including how people behave, feel, think, and perform in certain conditions. In order to do this, they need to develop a testable hypothesis, collect and analyze data, and report on study findings.

Some popular psychology research areas include drug, military, medical, social, and experimental research.

Political Strategists

It’s not uncommon for politicians to employ social psychologists to help devise strategies that will win over voters. Political strategists, also known as political consultants, are responsible for polling constituents; creating television, radio, and direct mail campaign pieces; and raising funds for candidates.

This career was developed during the last half of the 20th century, as the popularity of radio and television allowed politicians to reach a large audience quickly.

Social Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social psychologists fall under the broad occupation category of “psychologists, other” for reporting purposes and are part of the “social scientists and related workers” subcategory. Other occupations in these categories include sports psychologist and forensic psychologist. Job growth is expected to be 11 percent from 2012-2022 in this category. The BLS reports that the national annual median wage in May 2014 for these psychology specialists was $92,110, while the top 10 percent earned $120,670 and the bottom 10% earned $42,230.

Working in Social Psychology: Skills

Working in Social Psychology: Skills

Knowledge of human behavior is just the beginning when it comes to being a successful social psychologist. In addition to theoretical knowledge, they must also possess a number of important skills to thrive in their career. The list below includes a few proficiencies social psychologists need to perform daily duties.

Verbal and Written Communication Skills

In order to study social behavior, social psychologists must be able to verbally communicate with research participants, as well as communicate with peers about study findings. Written communication skills are also important when crafting a study and documenting the results.

Listening Skills

Social psychologists conducting research must be able to observe behavior, and this includes being able to listen to others and process what is being said.

Critical Thinking Skills

Social psychologists are required to make sense of raw data and put it into the context of human behavior. They need to be able to extrapolate the story within the data and put into a context that a larger audience will understand.

Ethical Skills

Whether working as a researcher, college professor or consultant, social psychologists are required to maintain high ethical standards. Researchers must conduct and report studies in a forthcoming way in order to maintain the integrity of the information they obtain.

Computer Skills

Like any other profession, computer skills are an important part of being successful in the psychology field. Social psychologists should know how to create spreadsheets, use word processing programs, and navigate data analysis tools.

Social Psychology Related Fields Salary and Career Growth 2012-2022

While social psychology falls under the purview of psychology, several related fields exist. Social psychology education can lead to a number of other related careers, including the ones listed below.


Salary: $74,960

Job growth 15%

Education: PhD

Survey Researchers

Salary: $45,050

Job growth 18%

Education: Bachelor’s degree or less

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Salary: $40,080

Job growth 29%

Education: Master’s degree

Rehabilitation Counselors

Salary: $33,880

Job growth 20%

Education: Bachelor’s degree or less

Market Research Analysts

Salary: $60,300

Job growth 32%

Education: Bachelor’s or master’s degree

Social Workers

Salary: $44,200

Job growth 19%

Education: Master’s degree

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Salary: $48,790

Job growth 21%

Education: At least a bachelor’s degree

Political Scientists

Salary: $102,000

Job growth 21%

Education: Typically a doctorate degree

School and Career Counselors

Salary: $53,610

Job growth 12%

Education: Master’s, specialist degree, or doctorate

Social Psychology Resources