Social Psychology

Overview and Philosophy

Social psychology is the study of how people think about, influence, and relate to others. Social psychology is an empirically-oriented field with a strong theoretical foundation, and the social psychology program at Iowa State University is grounded in both basic and applied research. The social faculty at Iowa State University are both nationally and internationally recognized for their contributions to the discipline in the areas of aggression and media influence, close relationships, culture and the self, eye-witness memory, attitudes and persuasion, self-fulfilling prophecies, and social judgment and comparison. Graduate students in the social psychology program learn the theoretical and conceptual bases of social psychology, acquire strong methodological and statistical skills, and develop critical skills in the areas of writing and teaching. Students acquire training in these areas through course work, empirical research, and through the social area’s colloquia series. Throughout their time in the program, students work closely with one or two social faculty on numerous research projects. The findings of these research projects are disseminated at conferences and in social psychological scholarly journals. The faculty and graduate students in the social psychology program at Iowa State University publish their work in the top journals in the field such as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Psychological Review, Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Health Psychology, JAMA Pediatrics (formerly Pediatrics), and Psychology And Law.

Areas of Concentration

Reflecting our dual applied/basic psychology perspective, the faculty’s interests concentrate on the following general topics: advertising and media effects; attitudes and persuasion; cultural psychology; human aggression; psychology and law; social cognition and social comparison; social support; the self; health psychology; leadership.

Professional Training

First year students become involved in the research programs of one or two social faculty immediately upon entering the program. The department prides itself on the relatively low student-to-faculty ratio which allows for extensive individualized training. By the end of the first year, students are ready to begin the development of their master’s thesis research. Following the successful defense of their master’s thesis and completion of preliminary exams, each student works closely with his or her major professor, developing and carrying out a variety of research ideas, one of which culminates in the dissertation proposal. Students become increasingly independent throughout this process, and ultimately develop the competencies and experience to transition into faculty positions themselves. Throughout the first five years, all students attend the weekly Social Seminar which provides more formal training in issues related to professional development. Every two weeks, the social area meets for an informal colloquium in which students and faculty members present their research. All social psychology doctoral students take the following quantitative and research methods courses: Statistical Methods for Researchers, Statistical Design and Analysis of Experiments, and Research Methods in Social Psychology. Many students also enroll in Statistics for the Social Sciences and Multivariate Methods. Interested students may elect to take any number of advanced statistic courses, or minor in Statistics.

Social psychology students complete the various basic courses in social psychology, which include Advanced Social Psychology, Applications of Social Psychology Theories, and Research Methods in Social Psychology. Students can also complete seminars on topics such as stress and coping, health, human aggression, causal modeling, close relationships, social cognition, cultural psychology, and an informal research seminar. Research seminar topics vary from year to year depending on faculty and student interests.

Additional Course Requirement

In addition to the course requirements detailed in the Graduate Handbook, Students in the Social Psychology Ph.D program must fulfill the following course requirements:-

  1. Psych 692R Research Seminar: Social. Students must sign up for this course each semester until they have successfully defended their dissertation proposal. After that, registration in 692R is optional, but attendance at colloquia is expected.
  2. All students must take at least one of the Psych 595 sections prior to proposing to defend their dissertation proposal. Note that a 595 course taken in fulfillment of core requirements cannot also be counted towards this requirement.


The social psychology program offers a variety of opportunities for training in both basic and applied social psychology. The Psychology Department has a large research participant pool and has access to samples from local health agencies. The department has recently acquired new space on campus that is being developed to house new offices and laboratories. The social area also has strong collaborations with faculty in the Statistics Department and the Partnerships for Prevention Science Institute, as well as other departments and programs on campus. There are also standing collaborations with researchers from many academic institutions both within and outside of the country (e.g., China, Taiwan, Singapore, Italy, Japan, Turkey, England, Romania), as well as non-academic institutions (e.g., National Institute on Media and the Family). A large number of faculty are supported by external research grants.

Student Characteristics

Admissions decisions are based on GRE scores (General Test and Psychology Subject Test), research experience, letters of recommendation, and interest in one or more research concentrations of the social psychology faculty: advertising and media effects; attitudes and persuasion; cultural psychology; human aggression; impression management; psychology and law; self-fulfilling prophecies; social cognition and social comparison; social support; the self. The typical successful applicant will have background (at least one course) in research methods, statistics, and social psychology.

Most of our students are interested in academic careers, though some pursue options in other settings, such as research consulting firms. Historically, all of our students have been funded as research and/or teaching assistants.

Recent Placement of Students:

Academic Placements: Post-Doctoral Placements:
Bates College Yale University
Briar Cliff University Carnegie Mellon
Eastern Kentucky University
George Washington University
James Madison University
Kennesaw State University
New Mexico State University
St. Benedict’s College/St. John’s University
University of Iowa
University Wisconsin- Milwaukee
Wake Forest University
Western Illinois University
University Of Michigan
Gettysburg College
Central Michigan University
Williams College
Ohio Wesleyan University

Questions about the social program may be directed to Craig Anderson (