Whether you’re looking for social psychology research topics for your A-Level or AP Psychology class, or considering a research question to explore for your Psychology PhD, the Psychology Unlocked list of social psychology research topics provides you with a strong list of possible avenues to explore.
Where possible we include links to university departments seeking PhD applications for certain projects. Even if you are not yet considering PhD options, these links may prove useful to you in developing your undergraduate or masters dissertation.
Lots of university psychology departments provide contact details on their websites.
If you read a psychologist’s paper and have questions that you would like to learn more about, drop them an email.
Lots of psychologists are very happy to receive emails from genuinely interested students and are often generous with their time and expertise… and those who aren’t will just overlook the email, so no harm done either way!
Social Psychology Research Topics
What social factors are involved with the development of aggressive thoughts and behaviours? Is aggression socially-defined? Do different societies have differing definitions of aggression?
There has recently been a significant amount of research conducted on the influence of video games and television on aggression and violent behaviour.
Some research has been based on high-profile case studies, such as the aggressive murder of Jamie Bulger in 1993 by two children (Robert Thompson and Jon Venables). There is also a significant body of experimental research.
Attachment and Relationships
This is a huge area of research with lots of crossover into developmental psychology. What draws people together? How do people connect emotionally? What is love? What is friendship? What happens if someone doesn’t form an attachment with a parental figure?
This area includes research on attachment styles (at various stages of life), theories of love, friendship and attraction.
Attitudes and Attitude Change
Attitudes are a relatively enduring and general evaluation of something. Individuals hold attitudes on everything in life, from other people to inanimate objects, groups to ideologies.
Attitudes are thought to involve three components: (1) affective (to do with emotions), (2) behavioural, and (3) cognitive (to do with thoughts).
Research on attitudes can be closely linked to Prejudice (see below).
Authority and Leadership
Perhaps the most famous study of authority is Milgram’s (1961) Obedience to Authority. This research area has grown into a far-reaching and influential topic.
Research considers both positive and negative elements of authority, and applied psychology studies consider the role of authority in a particular social setting, such as advertising, in the workplace, or in a classroom.
The Psychology of Crowds (Le Bon, 1895) paved a path for a fascinating area of social psychology that considers the social group as an active player.
Groups tend to act differently from individuals, and specific individuals will act differently depending on the group they are in.
Social psychology research topics about groups consider group dynamics, leadership (see above), group-think and decision-making, intra-group and inter-group conflict, identities (see below) and prejudices (see below).
Gordon Allport’s (1979) ‘The Nature of Prejudice’ is a seminal piece on group stereotyping and discrimination.
Social psychologists consider what leads to the formation of stereotypes and prejudices. How and why are prejudices used? Why do we maintain inaccurate stereotypes? What are the benefits and costs of prejudice?
This interesting blog post on the BPS Digest Blog may provide some inspiration for research into prejudice and political uncertainty.
Pro- and Anti-Social Behaviour
Behaviours are only pro- or anti-social because of social norms that suggest so. Social Psychologists therefore investigate the roots of these behaviours as well as considering what happens when social norms are ignored.
Within this area of social psychology, researchers may consider why people help others (strangers as well as well as known others). Another interesting question regards the factors that might deter an individual from acting pro-socially, even if they are aware that a behaviour is ‘the right thing to do’.
The bystander effect is one such example of social inaction.
Self and Social Identity
Tajfel and Turner (1979) proposed Social Identity Theory and a large body of research has developed out of the concepts of self and social identity (or identities).
Questions in this area include: what is identity? What is the self? Does a social identity remain the same across time and space? What are the contributory factors to an individual’s social identity?
Zimbardo’s (1972) Stanford Prison Experiment famously considered the role of social identities.
Research in this area also links with work on groups (see above), social cognition (see below), and prejudices (see above).
Social cognition regards the way we think and use information. It is the cross-over point between the fields of social and cognitive psychology.
Perhaps the most famous concept in this area is that of schemas – general ideas about the world, which allow us to make sense of new (and old) information quickly.
Social cognition also includes those considering heuristics (mental shortcuts) and some cognitive biases.
This is one of the first areas of social psychology that most students learn. Remember the social conformity work by Asch (1951) on the length of lines?
Other social psychology research topics within this area include persuasion and peer-pressure.
Social Representations (Moscovici, 1961) ‘make something unfamiliar, or unfamiliarity itself, familiar’ (Moscovici, 1984). This is a theory with its academic roots in Durkheim’s theory of collective representations.
Researchers working within this framework consider the social role of knowledge. How does information translate from the scientific realm of expert knowledge to the socially accessible realm of the layperson? How do we make sense of new information? How do we organise separate and distinct facts in a way that make sense to our needs?
One of the most famous studies using Social Representations Theory is Jodelet’s (1991) study of madness.