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Similarities and Differences Between Sociology and Psychology

By Julia Simkus, published March 21, 2022

by Saul Mcleod, PhD


While both psychology and sociology involve studying people and understanding human behavior, there are distinct differences between these two fields.

Psychology studies the mind of an individual to understand human behavior and social and emotional reactions, whereas sociology looks beyond individuals and examines societies as a whole to understand current issues.

Both psychologists and sociologists seek to improve people’s lives and better society, but psychologists focus on emotional and social reactions while sociologists concentrate on providing support to sustain families and communities.

Differences Between Psychology and Sociology

  • Psychology is the study of the emotions and behavior of an individual whereas sociologists look beyond the individual to examine societal institutions and groups of people.
  • Psychologists typically need to pass a test to become licensed, while sociologists have no licensing requirements.
  • Psychologists can diagnose and treat mental health disorders whereas sociologists cannot.
  • Psychologists must understand basic medical science, such as the biological processes of the brain, whereas sociologists must have a strong understanding of social theory and public policy.
  • Sociologists tend to work in social work, social justice, and social services while psychologists are usually better equipped to work in human resources, health clinics, or counseling.

Similarities Between Psychology and Sociology

  • Both psychology and sociology are social sciences that involve the study of human thought processes and behaviors.
  • Both fields are concerned with improving people’s lives and bettering society.
  • Both professions utilize communication, interpersonal, analytical, research, listening, observational, and problem-solving skills.
  • Both psychology and sociology degrees are versatile and can lead to a wide range of career opportunities.

What is Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association, psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior of individual people. Psychologists aim to understand the mental processes behind the behavior of individuals, or groups.

They study the mind, how it works, and how it affects behavior. Psychologists focus on social and emotional factors like anger, intelligence, aging, anxiety, depression, and stress.

What is Sociology?

Sociology is a social science that concentrates on the study of human social relationships and institutions. Sociology looks past individual differences to examine groups of people – families, nations, companies, communities, and so on.

Sociologists strive to understand how human action and consciousness shape and are shaped by surrounding cultural and social structures.

Sociology’s subject matter can range from the social causes and consequences of love, racial and gender identity, family conflict, aging, poverty, crime and religious faith to phenomena such as population growth and migration, war and peace, and economic development.

What You Study in Sociology

Sociologists try to answer questions about current social issues and learn about the ways diverse communities interact with each other.

Coursework in sociology might focus on globalization, race and ethnicity, diversity and inequality, methods of research, and social problems. The research methods sociologists use are varied but include conducting large-scale surveys, interpreting historical documents, analyzing census data, studying video-taped interactions, interviewing participants of groups, or conducting laboratory experiments.

Students learn to think critically about human social life and know how to help others understand the way the social world works.

What You Study in Psychology

Psychologists look into the cognitive and emotional processes of individuals and try to understand how they influence human behavior.

Coursework in psychology might include topics such as human development, psychopathology, statistics, mental illness, and personality.

Psychologists are involved in research such as cognition, attention, emotion, brain functioning, motivation, and perception.

There are a number of specific disciplines within the field of psychology that students can study including behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, quantitative psychology, and abnormal psychology.

Career Paths in Sociology

Careers in sociology are essentially limitless. Sociologists can be employed by research institutes, criminal justice systems, public health and welfare organizations, private businesses, law firms, international agencies, medical centers, educational institutions, advertising firms, and more.

They often work as social researchers, case workers, paralegals, public relations workers, administrators, community organizers, public policy researchers, or data analysts.

According to the American Sociological Association, about a quarter of those with a bachelor’s degree in sociology work in social services, as either counselors or psychologists.

Career Paths in Psychology

Similarly, there is a plethora of potential careers that someone with a psychology degree can pursue.

Psychologists can work in outpatient facilities or offices, either as an individual practitioner in a private practice or as part of a group practice.

They can also work in hospitals, health clinics, schools and universities, sports teams, rehabilitation centers, or for large corporations as organizational psychologists.

While many psychologists are involved in some kind of therapeutic role, such as  practicing psychotherapy in clinical, counseling, or school settings, other psychologists conduct scientific research in academic settings on a variety of topics relating to mental processes and behavior.

Fact Checking
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About the Author

Julia Simkus is an undergraduate student at Princeton University, majoring in Psychology. She plans to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology upon graduation from Princeton in 2023. Julia has co-authored two journal articles, one titled “Substance Use Disorders and Behavioral Addictions During the COVID-19 Pandemic and COVID-19-Related Restrictions," which was published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in April 2021 and the other titled “Food Addiction: Latest Insights on the Clinical Implications," to be published in Handbook of Substance Misuse and Addictions: From Biology to Public Health in early 2022.

How to reference this article:

Simkus, J. (2022, March 21. Similarities and Differences Between Sociology and Psychology. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/psychology-vs-sociology.html

Sources

Prout, T. (2021, June 24). Sociology vs. psychology. National University. Retrieved from https://www.nu.edu/resources/sociology-vs-psychology/

Saint Leo University. (2015, December 17). Psychology vs. sociology: What's the difference? Saint Leo University. Retrieved from https://www.saintleo.edu/blog/online-psychology-degree-vs.-sociology-what-s-the-difference-infographic

University of North Carolina. (n.d.). What is sociology? Department of Sociology. Retrieved from https://sociology.unc.edu/undergraduate-program/sociology-major/what-is-sociology/

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