A lot of students really look forward to studying Social Psychology as it definitely has the most relatable content to everyday life. It's a chance to see what social science has to say about the casual psychoanalyses that we make that lead us to say, "hey, aren't I an intuitive genius? I should do a Psychology masters!"
You'll learn about the difference between conscious and automated states. This involves investigating to what degree we are really in control of the decisions we make, and to what extent environmental factors influence our final decision. We all know when a conscious thought emerges, but where does it begin? Some of the factors that influence us are immediately around us - advertisers use eye-catching and sometimes subtle messages to influence our mood in the present and the future to affect the way we perceive products, creating emotional attachments and a sense of trust and loyalty. You can be the judge of how sincere they are, just keep your eyes open!
We are also influenced by past experiences, knowledge and attitudes. These can lead us to build stereotypical responses to people and situations. The challenge of psychologists is to find whether these kind of ideas are prevalent and observable. How can you measure an unconscious thought? And how do you know if someone is acting on an unconscious thought? Do we always act on conscious or subconscious influences? It is inherently hard to study a phenomenon that is difficult to define and isolate from external influences. People are not quite like chemicals, you can't just put them in a test tube, add some Iodine, and conclude, "Yep, not a single conscious thought in this guy's head!".
There is still a sense of familiarity of these ideas when studying Social Psychology. We know that feeling of how we act in a group vs. when we're on our own and how this might affect our emotional state and decision making. Other topics include how accurately we can assess our future emotional state based on how we feel currently, and how we develop a sense of self. There is certainly an element of philosophical roots to these questions, and you may find yourself asking, can Psychology really discover the answer to some of these questions or will they remain deeply philosophical?
Joshua Bugg graduated with an MSc Psychological Studies in 2019