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Social psychologists believe that a person's behavior changes as a function of their environment. A businessman giving a presentation in a corporate board room may behave in a prim, rigid manner, for example, however that same person may be uninhibited and boisterous on the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Because their scope is so large, social psychologists are commonly employed by colleges, universities, laboratories, nonprofit organizations and private companies in a number of diverse roles.
Many social psychologists working in a corporate setting consult for market research departments. In this role, the social psychologist conducts focus groups, testing a consumer's response to different variables, such as the gender of the announcer, the atmosphere in which the commercial is shot and the time slot in which it's aired. In this role, social psychologists use their knowledge on the basic tenets of social psychology, review current literature and conduct their own observations. They are responsible for encouraging a company to make fact-based decisions.
Social psychologists are adept at collecting and analyzing data. In an academic environment, they conduct "pure research," which adds to the body of knowledge in social psychology, rather than having a specific consumer application. Original research includes studying diverse subjects such as what environmental variables contribute to people falling in love, how social factors contribute to prejudice or how stereotypes change based on the your geographical location. Social psychology is a competitive field and successful job candidates must have a record of publishing research in respected peer-review journals.
Social psychologists teach at colleges, universities, to colleagues and to customers. At the university level, a professor would typically teach graduate and undergraduate level courses, both in social psychology and in general psychology. A typical load for an assistant professor, which is an entry-level position, is teaching two undergraduate courses per quarter, as well as mentoring students. In addition, they present research papers at professional conferences. In the business world, social psychology jargon is translated into layperson's terms the target audience will understand.
Social psychologists work on pretrial, civil and criminal cases. Some focus their efforts on selecting jurors most likely to be sympathetic to a defendant, while others focus on selecting which jurors are the best to strike. Regardless of which angle they take, the social psychologist attempts to predict a person's sympathies based on the environment in which he lives. Outside the realm of jury selection, social psychologists who are trial consultants spend their days listening to witnesses, preparing exhibits to demonstrate different concepts to the court, or helping defense attorneys develop effective trial strategies.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.
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