When I tell people I am a social psychologist, I usually have to follow up with an explanation of what it means to be a psychologist who specializes in something other than counseling people with mental health issues (the purview of clinical psychologists). Social psychology is the scientific study of people in groups. Social psychology is research based and includes the study of human interaction, decision making, group dynamics, persuasion, attribution theory, attitudes, prejudice, aggression, prosocial behavior, social influence, cognitive dissonance, and many other topics. People are, by definition, social beings and social psychology explains how people conduct themselves in the presence of other people. Many laypersons conduct themselves as amateur social psychologists when they attempt to explain other people’s behavior. Questions such as, “Why did she do that?”; “What does he really think?”; and “How will they react if I do this?” are examples of social psychology in everyday life. The differences between what the average person does and what a social psychologist does when interpreting human interaction derive from the scientific precision with which a social psychologist considers these topics. Social psychology, using scientific research methods, explains how people behave in groups, as opposed to how people conduct themselves when they are alone, acting on an individual basis. Social psychology is an exciting field; we social psychologists are able to answer questions about other people’s behavior that are often perplexing to the average person. It is the goal of every social psychologist to increase understanding of human behavior, in hopes of making a positive impact on the world in which we live.
I admit that when Melissa and I met, I did not know how to define the sub fields of psychology. I took a general psychology course in college and considered minoring it psychology, but with 3 majors I didn’t have time to add it. However, as I got to know Melissa and learned more about social psych, I greatly appreciated how it has contributed to our shared understanding of the world and people. It fascinated me to learn that what triggered her interest in group behavior was a horrible tragedy – the 1978 Jonestown massacre. Driven by a desire to understand what could cause so many people to blindly and without question follow another person opened the world of social psychology to her. Her study of human behavior took her into the world of decisions made in the legal arena with her experiments, which lead to her dissertation, in the area of eyewitness identification. It turned out that expertise in all of the aspects of social psychology are perfect for a career in trial consulting. At a basic level, trial consulting is the study of group behavior, just as is social psychology. Jurors form juries to reach group decisions. I did enhance my knowledge of the field taking a social psychology course in graduate school. It complemented my other areas of study, but it has also been tremendously beneficial in making it possible for Melissa and me to work together today. And, Melissa does all she can by writing articles, making presentations and working with our clients to educate them in the principles of social psychology. Helping them understand some of these concepts puts the group decision process – juries – as well as some other individual decision processes – bench trials or arbitration – in perspective. It makes our clients better at what they do. That is the goal of sharing this knowledge.