Social psychology

People live in constant interaction with each other. We are members of groups, organisations, societies and cultural communities. Social psychology studies how this social world and individual people impact and shape each other, and how we are in interaction with each other. Key points of interest are the social construction of the human mind – thoughts and emotions – as well as relations between groups.
Research profile

Research on social interaction has played a key role in the discipline from the very beginning. In the 1970s, new research topics included socialisation and moral socialisation, ethnic identities and inter-group relations, as well as the social psychology of health. Over the following decades, the research expanded to encompass the social psychology of knowledge as well as social representations. Subsequently, entrepreneurship, working life, digital interaction and nationalism have been active focuses of research.

Current fo­cus areas of research

The current focuses of the social psychological research are intergroup relations, cultural and social diversity, identities, everyday thinking and arguing, group processes in organisations, agency and changing working life, and health and well-being.

Inter-group relations, immigrants and identities

International conflicts and wars, increasing migration and numbers of refugees, as well as the growing social diversity and inequality in society, create tensions between groups and give rise to new identity groups, testing the unity of society. Similar challenges are posed by the rise of conspiracy theories, extremist thinking, and hate speech, especially during societal crises. All of this increases the need to promote good relations between societal groups and secure equality. Such topics are at the core of the research on intergroup relations in the discipline. The research focuses on the dynamics and consequences of relations between groups, as well as discourses and ideologies about intergroup relations, both among cultural minority groups and the majority population. The development of interventions that promote tolerance and equality is also of central importance. 

Read more on the pages of the research group Social Psychologists Studying Ethnic Relations (ESSO) in the research portal or on ESSO's own website (in English).

Everyday thinking and argumentation

The ways in which people construct and structure the world creates the framework for their observations, attitudes and activities. Through re-presentation and argumentation we create new knowledge as well as maintain current knowledge. Research topics in social psychology have included conceptions and constructions of equality, European integration, violence, security, technology, human rights, citizenship, feminism, nationalism and history. Research has also increasingly focused on discursive, visual and multimodal discourse.

Read more on the pages of the research group.

The social psychology of organisations and groups

Social psychology investigates many phenomena that we encounter every day, for example in the workplace: leadership styles, intra-group communication, decision-making and influencing others. Recent research has concentrated on workplace wellbeing and perceived justice in the workplace. Perceived justice affects organisational identification and commitment, resignation plans, inter-group relations in organisations, and fair treatment in the workplace. Also of interest is the connection between the personal values of employees and perceived justice.

The social psychology of agency and changing working life

Discussion on changing working life is commonly related to individual agency, responsibility and opportunities. For example, entrepreneurship is discussed not only as a force for structural change but also as a career option, an opportunity to succeed and serve important issues. Both education and social policy include discourses in which entrepreneurship does not refer to business ownership but to ideal, “entrepreneurial” agency. Social psychological research focuses on tensions between individual-centred views and views that emphasise relationships, interactions and interdependencies. This tension has been explored in a number of contexts of changing working life, among them employability promotion, farmers' entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship promotion policies, and multiple wage labour organisations.

Read more on the pages of the research group.

The social psychology of health

Human behaviour plays a key role in several societal problems affecting well-being of people and the planet, such as climate change, many chronic diseases and pandemics. Solutions can therefore be found in influencing behaviour. Change in attitudes and behaviour is one of the classic research topics of social psychology. Research in the field of social psychology of health aims to understand how different psychological (including emotions and their regulation) and social factors affect behaviour and its change in different population groups. A key research focus is also the effects of behaviour change interventions and the dynamic processes underlying the change. When developing interventions, target groups are involved and different theoretical approaches are integrated. Currently under investigation are e.g. promotion of sustainable and healthy eating, communication of genomic information and its effect on health behaviour, and mechanisms of successful lifestyle change.                                    

Research projects

Some of the project names are only in Finnish.

Study opportunities

The discipline of social psychology was established at the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1962. It is Finland’s oldest unit providing education in social psychology. Graduates from social psychology have found employment in a wide variety of fields: as researchers and educators, in the social and healthcare sector, in administrative positions in central or local government or non-governmental organisations as well as in the private sector as independent entrepreneurs and corporate HR officers.

Social psychology has traditionally emphasised student-centred learning and experimented with new forms of active learning. In 1989 the University of Helsinki Student Union granted the Department of the Year award to social psychology. The Department of Social Psychology was also designated a Finnish centre of excellence in teaching in 1999–2000. The University of Helsinki granted the Department a quality award for teaching in 2006 and selected it as a centre of excellence in teaching for 2007–2009. From 2015 to 2016, the discipline of social psychology served as one of the host units for developing the Teachers’ Academy of the University of Helsinki.

Degree programmes that offer teaching in social psychology
Com­munity re­la­tions and pub­lic en­gage­ment

Social psychology researchers have extensive international networks and increasingly work in international comparative settings.

Because social psychologists explore human interaction and people in their social environments, social changes (e.g., immigration, new technologies, genetic health information, and changes in production and the job market) are inextricably linked to research in social psychology.

The public engagement of researchers primarily takes place in cooperation with the public (national and local) sector.


Discipline coordinator: Professor Inga Jasinskaja-Lahti

Director of Master's Programme in Social Science: Senior University Lecturer Jukka Lipponen

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00014 University of Helsinki

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