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Social Psychology underpins many professions

Understanding theories and elements of Social Psychology is important for anyone who works with people. People are social. They live best in groups or societies, with an order to the interrelationships that exist between the different individuals in that group. When people are not socialised and do not fit in, their psychological health and wellbeing can be susceptible to problems.

Socialisation is a process by which those relationships establish and evolve. Agents of socialisation, which affect those changes, are groups and people such as families, peer groups, media and schools. These agents influence our behaviour, emotions, attitudes and self-concept.

Socialisation then, is the process by which an individual learns how to live and function in a society. This usually encompasses the primary socialisation provided by parents and schools as indivduals grow up, and the developmental socialisation provided by new experiences and relationships. Socialisation is used by social psychologists, sociologists and in education to refer to the process of learning our individual culture and how to live within our own culture. An individual learns through socialisation how to act and participate within their society. The society is able to educate all individual members into the attitudes, values, motives, morals, social roles, language and symbols that are the means by which societies and cultures attain continuity.

It is claimed that socialisation was first discussed by Plato and Rousseau, however, it was brought into the wider knowledge by the work of American sociologists Giddings and Ross in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the idea of socialisation was also taken up by American sociologists, such as Burgess, Cooley, Thomas and Mead. The idea of socialisation was then incorporated into some branches of sociology and anthropology.

While socialisation is typically viewed, at least in part, as a process of social control that teaches individuals to conform to the norms (rules) of social interaction, it can, in fact, include considerable deviation from expected behaviour. One reason for this is that norms and rules only have meaning or value in relation to the alternatives. For a norm to be learned or taught, there must exist an awareness of alternatives to that norm. You cannot learn to stand up in respect for your elders if you have not exercised the alternative, which is not to stand up for your elders, and caused someone to teach you or enforce the norm. Therefore, by the very act of rewarding someone for conformity, we create a greater awareness of non-conformity as a possibility, no matter how undesirable it seems.

Another reason that deviation from social norms is embedded in socialisation is that society simply could not function effectively without individual initiative, imagination, creativity or action. Conformity does not breed innovation, and an excess of it can severely inhibit a society’s capacity to change and grow, or to adapt to external changes. Even the most apparently conservative societies tend to allow for the innovation and challenge that come from individual initiative, though such activity might be restricted, curtailed or marginalised to reduce its potential for threatening the established social order and thinking.

Some psychologists, particularly humanist psychologists like Adler, reject the premise held by other schools of thought that the primary task of psychologists is to help ‘normalise’ people, to help them fit in with social expectations and adapt to social norms. This premise, they argue, reduces people to either normal or not normal, or normal and deviant, and does not recognise that deviation from social and other norms can be both positive and desirable.

The concept of socialisation has been less central to debate in sociology and psychology in the twentieth century, moving their focus away from the functions of institutions and systems to debates about education and family. Family and education are more often blamed for their failure to “socialise” individuals who do not follow social norms. You have probably heard cases of the murderer with the bad childhood etc. This is not to say that this does not occur, just that the family or school system is now more likely to be blamed than once it would have been. However, there is now an increasing acceptance within social psychology and sociology of the differing forms that family can take, the difference in gender roles and the tolerance of the different ways that people wish to express their social identity.

Types of Socialisation
There are six main types of socialisation:

Reverse Socialisation
If you read the definition below of resocialisation, it gives an example of how we have to change our behaviours and so on to accept another life style. The example being, joining the army or the military. Reverse socialisation is the process that occurs when a person may leave the army or military, so have to go back and “re-learn” their old behaviours.

Developmental Socialisation
The process of learning behaviour in a social institution or developing your social skills.

Primary Socialisation
The process whereby people learn the values, actions and attitudes that are appropriate to members of a particular culture. For example, if we hear our mother make a discriminatory statement against a particular group of people, we may think this is acceptable and continue to hold that opinion about that group.

Secondary Socialisation
This is the process of learning behaviour that is appropriate as a member of a smaller group within a larger society. Such as entering a new profession or environment. Tends to be found more in adults and teenagers.

Anticipatory Socialisation
The process of socialisation where a person almost “rehearses” for future positions, roles, relationships and occupations.

This is a process whereby a person discards their former behaviour patterns and accepts new ones as part of a transition process. This occurs throughout the human life cycle. It can be an intense experience, requiring a break with the past and accepting radically new different ideas. For example, leaving home to join the army. It involves the mental and emotional “retraining” of a person so that they can operate in another environment.

Anyone who works with people is going to be concerned with their wellbeing; from fitness leaders and counsellors to teachers and welfare officers.

Understanding social psychology can often help you understand important aspects of what is going on when people when people become anti-social, insular, and depressed; and with that understanding, make better decisions about how to respond to situations and help.
Social Psychology is a fascinating area of psychology. Studying Social Psychology will increase your knowledge of how human behaviour can change in a social situation and why. Our Social Psychology course can be useful in a range of careers, such as law enforcement, teaching, volunteer work, social work, youth work, sporting careers and more.

If you have any questions about our courses or would like to know more, please get in touch with us on

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