Social psychology

© Eliel Kilkki

What is 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 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 in social psychology at the University of Helsinki:

  • Inter-group relations, immigrants and identities
    Both basic and applied research on the relations between ethnic groups is conducted in the discipline. The focus is on ethnic minorities (immigrants as well as linguistic and cultural minorities), as well as the majority population and multicultural society. Research topics include ethnic identities, integration and wellbeing of immigrants, and the prejudices and stereotypes of the majority population.

  • Everyday thinking and argumentation
    The ways in which people construct and structure the world creates the framework for their observations, attitudes and activities. Through 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 and visual expression.
  • The social psychology of entrepreneurship
    In the social psychology of entrepreneurship examinations deal with psychological factors, social relations and interactions associated with entrepreneurship, as well as entrepreneurial orientation and the construction and conditions of the entrepreneurial agent who implements this orientation.  Analyses in the discipline are on the psychological elements that define the entrepreneurial agent (such as identity, the self, and the cognitions, values and skills concerning the self as agent) and social communication (such as the presentation of the self, framing and argumentation), as well as transaction relations (such as the client, the competitor and society), through which the entrepreneurial agent is incorporated into the social, cultural and political environment.
  • Behaviour change and wellbeing Research area of Behaviour change and well-being conducts research in behaviour change science, and aims to understand how social and psychological factors affect behaviour change. The research group also investigate the effects of behaviour change interventions and how the dynamic processes that underlie change unfold. Read more on the website of Behaviour change and wellbeing 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.

For more information about research and grant-funded researchers, see the University of Helsinki research portal.

Discipline coordinator: Professor Inga Jasinskaja-Lahti, DSSc

Director for Master's Programme in Social Research: university lecturer Jukka Lipponen


  • Nelli Hankonen: Processes of behaviour change: Psychosocial mechanisms of change in interventions to promote wellbeing. Academy of Finland 2015-20
  • Nelli Hankonen: Self-determined motivation for work and health: investigating fluctuations and identifying effective strategies for motivational self-management.
    Academy of Finland 2016-20
  • Nelli Hankonen: Behavior Change Science & Policy (BeSP). Finnish Cultural Foundation 2019-2020
  • Inga Jasinskaja-Lahti: Searching for Inclusive National Identity: A multimethod cross-cultural approach. Academy of Finland, 2013–2017

More research projects involving the discipline are listed in the research portal.

The discipline of social psychology was established at the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1962. It is Finland’s oldest and most extensive 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.

Degree programmes that offer teaching in social psychology:

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.

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.