Social Psychology I

Social Psychology distance learning course. Learn about the self, stereotypes, group behaviour, prejudice, attraction, attitudes and attitudinal change, interaction and much more.

Course CodeBPS205
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Study Social Psychology

This Social Psychology course helps you to:

  • Understand human behaviour - it is important to understand how society affects the individual and the group.
  • Recognise that humans are social animals, and as such, it is very important to understand the psychology of how we interact with each other, or act as a group rather than an individual.

By understanding the "natural" social needs of a person, you can develop an increased sensitivity to other people, and better identify and assist people with attending to deficiencies in their social interactions.

It is always fascinating to try and understand why people behave differently when they are around others. How football hooliganism occurs? Why people do things because they are told to, even though they may not agree with them. Why sometimes people do nothing when they see that others are in danger. A detailed and fascinating area of psychology."

Tracey Jones, B.Sc. (Hons) (Psychology), M.Soc.Sc (social work), DipSW (social work), PGCE (Education), PGD (Learning Disability Studies), ACS Tutor

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Social Cognition
    • Introduction to social psychology
    • What is social psychology
    • Impression formation
    • Behaviour
    • Appearance
    • Expectations
    • The primary affect
    • Attribution
    • Scemas and social perception
    • Central traits
    • Stereotypes
    • Social inference and decision making
    • Case Study: social psychology and law
  2. The Self
    • Introduction
    • Self concept
    • Present and ideal selves
    • Cognitive dissonance
    • Experiments into cognitive dissonance
    • Reducing cognitive dissonance
    • Self efficacy
    • How does the self develop
    • Self and social feedback
    • Socialisation
    • Types of socialisation
    • How are we socialised
  3. Attribution and Perception of Others
    • Attribution theory
    • Attribution and Concensus, consistency, distinctiveness
    • Attribution errors
    • Culture and attributional style
    • Criticisms of the theory
    • Practical uses of attribution theory
  4. Attitudes and Attitude Change
    • Defining attitude
    • Characteristics of attitudes
    • ABC of attitudes
    • Affective elements of attitude
    • Behavioural elements of attitude
    • Self attribution
    • Specificity
    • Constraints
    • Cognitive elements of attitude
    • Attitude formation
    • Factors affecting attitude change
  5. Prejudice, Discrimination and Stereotypes
    • Introduction
    • What is prejudice
    • Functions of prejudice
    • How we measure prejudice
    • In groups and out groups
    • Reducing prejudice
    • Stereotypes
    • Functions of stereotypes
    • Dangers of using stereotypes
    • Changing stereotypes
    • Discrimination
  6. Interpersonal Attraction
    • Introduction
    • Theories of attraction
    • The social exchange theory
    • The reinforcement affect model
    • Factors affecting interpersonal attraction
    • Physical appearance
    • Biological underpinnings
    • Similarity
    • Familiarity
    • Positive regard
    • Mis attribution of emotions
    • Proximity
    • Attachment styles
    • Cultural similarities
    • An evolutionary perspective
    • The cost of sex
  7. Helping Behaviour
    • Bystander intervention
    • Diffusion of responsibility
    • Social facilitation
    • Compliance
    • Obedience
    • Conformity
    • Why do people conform
    • Factors affecting conformity
    • Desire for affiliation
    • Reinforcement and punishment
    • Obedience to authority
    • Why does social influence work
  8. Aggression
    • Introduction
    • Types of aggression
    • Theoretical approaches to aggression: Freudian, Drive theories, Social learning theories, Biological and evolutionary theories
    • Aggrssion against outsiders
    • Aggression in a species
    • Aggression in humans
    • Environmental influences on human aggression
    • Imitation or modelling
    • Familiarity
    • Reinforcement
    • Aggression and Culture
    • Other factors
  9. Groups
    • What is a group
    • Kinds of groups; recreational, social, work, family, sporting
    • Features of groups
    • Factors relating to groups: productivity, social loafing, insufficient coordination, social facilitation
    • Group decision making: group think, group polarisation, minority influence
    • Deindividualisation
  10. Cultural Influences
    • Defining culture
    • Culture and social exchange
    • Individualistc vs reciprocal societies
    • Cross cultural psychology vs cultural psychology
    • Culture bound syndromes
    • Trance and possession disorder

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • To determine how physical characteristics and non-verbal behaviour affect our formation of impressions of others, and how that information is processed;
  • To understand the sociological perspective of the self and how we relate to others;
  • To discuss attribution theory, the internal and external causes, and its role in self-perception and the perception of others;
  • To understand the emergence of attitudes, changes in attitude, and the effect of attitudes upon behaviour and use as predictors of behaviour;
  • To discuss the emergence of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination from the perspective of social psychology and attitudes;
  • To understand the influence of physicality, similarity, familiarity and proximity on interpersonal relationships;
  • To understand helping behaviour through the influences of conformity, compliance, obedience and diffusion of responsibility;
  • To define social psychological theories of aggression and to apply those theories;
  • To understand the nature of group behaviour and to demonstrate awareness of group cognition;
  • To understand the effect of culture on behaviour of individuals and groups.

What You Will Do

  • Define ‘social cognition’;
  • Determine the possible impression a jury might have of defendants and the social basis of those impressions;
  • List the three general biases that may affect the jury’s “attributions and explanations” and briefly describe each one;
  • Different types of schema;
  • Explain why people are motivated to justify their own actions belief and feelings;
  • Explain ‘cognitive dissonance’;
  • Explain how can the desire for self-consistency influences our self-perception;
  • Determine the purposes served by dissonance -reducing behaviour;
  • Identify factors that form self-concept;
  • Describe attribution theory;
  • Describe how discounting principles relate to our perception of others;
  • Identify the fundamental attribution error;
  • Discuss how we use attribution to protect our self esteem;
  • Discuss how consistency, consensus and distinctiveness help to form our explanations of another person’s behaviour;
  • Explain how attitudes develop;
  • Discuss how attitudes affect behaviour;
  • Explain what makes people prejudiced;
  • Explain how physicality influences our behaviour;
  • Discuss the principle of similarity;
  • Explain how familiarity and proximity influence the development of friendship;
  • Explain why people conform;
  • Discuss Millgram’s experiment on obedience;
  • Explain why is a lone person more likely to help than a person in a group;
  • Discuss how conformity, compliance, obedience and diffusion of responsibility influence helping behaviour;
  • List the causes of aggression;
  • Explain the concept of group polarization;
  • Discuss how group decision-making influences conformity;
  • Examine the influence of culture and society on each other.

Why do Some People Avoid Social Responsibility?

People don't like to be criticised; and they don't like their friends or family being criticised.

Attribution theory is a theory within social psychology where "responsibility" for actions, will be attributed to someone other than yourself, or someone close to you.

According to Heider’s (1958) "attribution theory", when we offer explanations about why things happened, we attribute them to either situational factors causes (situation and circumstance) or dispositional factors (thinking, personality, attitude, motivation, effort etc.). 

Weiner further developed Heider’s theory and claimed that attribution is a three step process through which we perceive others as causal agents.

Attribution theory assumes that people try to determine why other people do what they do, that is, attribute a cause to their behaviour. A person trying to understand why a person did something may attribute their behaviour to one or more causes.

There is therefore, a three stage process underlying the attribution. 

For example, you are walking along and someone throws some litter on the floor. Three thoughts may cross our minds:
“I saw that” (perception of the action) – step 1 
“You meant to do that” (judgement of intention) – step 2
“You are a litter lout” (attribution of disposition) – step 3

We must first observe or perceive the behaviour (step 1). We must then believe that the person did the behaviour intentionally (step 2) and finally determine if the person was forced to perform that behaviour.  If they were forced to do it, the cause would be attributed to the situation, if they were not forced, the cause would be attributed to the person. 

So using the example above:

Person throws the litter
Step 1 – I saw that
Step 2 – You meant to do that.
Step 3 – The piece of litter was on fire – the person was forced to do it, so the cause is environmental. (external attribution)
Step 3 – You are a litter lout – the person was not forced to do it, so the cause was their own personality (internal attribution). 

When someone acts out of character, however, we might attribute the behaviour to external factors, wondering “What happened to him? What has made him act this way?” and looking for perhaps work or marriage problems, or other external influences on the person’s behaviour. When a stranger or someone we don’t know well (or don’t like) acts in a way that is unexpected and considered out of the norm, we are inclined to attribute it to internal causes, such as unpleasant personality, aggressiveness, ignorance, or jealousy.

Attribution has a direct influence on our behaviour, and can either encourage us or discourage us from taking action in a situation.

This is one of many theories that can help us understand social behaviours.

Through this course, you will deepen your understanding of social behaviour; and in doing so, your ability to interact and function within any corner of society will be enhanced.

How This Course Could Help You

Social psychology is one of those areas of psychology which has relevance for most people, although they probably don't realise it. From its applications in the workplace to its explanations of how we interact with others in daily life, this course provides a fascinating insight into why people act the way they do in the social context. Whether you just want to make more sense of people you encounter or you just have a deep interest in what makes people tick, you will find this course of great value.

Those who will benefit from studying this course are likely to be from a range of fields including:

  • Counselling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Social work
  • Personnel management
  • Nursing
  • Caring roles
  • Health professions
  • Research
  • Education

This course may be studied by itself or as part of a certificate or higher level qualification. 

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Lyn Quirk

M.Prof.Ed.; Adv.Dip.Compl.Med (Naturopathy); Adv.Dip.Sports Therapy Over 30 years as Health Club Manager, Fitness Professional, Teacher, Coach and Business manager in health, fitness and leisure industries. As business owner and former department head fo
Christine Todd

University lecturer, businesswoman, photographer, consultant and sustainability expert; with over 40 years industry experience B.A., M.Plan.Prac., M.A.(Social). An expert in planning, with years of practical experience in permaculture.
Jacinda Cole

Psychologist, Educator, Author, Psychotherapist. B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA Jacinda has over 25 years of experience in psychology, in both Australia and England. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psycholo
Tracey Jones

B.Sc. (Psych), M.Soc.Sc., Dip.Social Work, P.G.Dip Learning Disability, Cert Editing, Cert Creative Writing, PGCE. Member British Psychological Society, Member Assoc. for Coaching, Member British Learning Assoc. 25 years industry experience in writing,
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