These two sciences study the relationships between people, but from different perspectives.
Psychology is often understood as a science that is dedicated to studying the individual, the person. However, it’s not always like that.
A good part of the psychological phenomena that are investigated from this discipline have to do with interaction, the way in which we relate to others and, ultimately, the social.
This easily raises a question: what are the differences between psychology and sociology? What is it that allows them to be distinguished?
Differentiate between Sociology and Psychology
Both psychology and sociology are very broad disciplines, so there are several points of overlap between them. However, coming to recognize their differences is not difficult. Let’s see what they are.
1. Psychology is not just a social science
Sociology is the science that studies and analyzes social phenomena and relationships between people, that is, those that cannot be understood starting from the study of the individual.
Although psychology has a facet that falls squarely in the field of social sciences, it cannot be fully included in this category. This is so because its object of study is bio-psycho-social. That is, it takes biology and even genetics into account. These last elements are by definition something that affects the individual in the first place, and cannot be considered the result of interaction with the environment. (the genotype only changes through small random mutations).
Biopsychology and basic psychology, for example, study the most basic and universal mental processes, as well as the problems that appear when the nervous system is drastically altered. These are processes that do not depend so much on culture and society as material changes that take place directly within the human organism.
Through research in these types of areas linked to what human beings have in common, an attempt is made to understand the “raw material” with which we reach the world and which, in combination with the relationship with the environment, will make us the human beings with their own personality that we all know.
2. Sociology studies only collective phenomena
Sociology does not focus its objective on a specific individual, but analyzes the behavior patterns of groups and crowds. For example, the way in which people blame the government or the market economy for the rise in unemployment.
Psychology, through the branch of social psychology, also takes into account social phenomena, but does not focus its study on them. Instead, analyze how these social phenomena have an effect on the individual.
For example, the experiments on conformity carried out by the psychologist Solomon Asch were used to observe the effects that social pressure had on individual behavior, leading people to give an answer that they believed was wrong just because it was not the discordant note of the group.
3. The methodology they use is different
Psychology uses the experimental method a lot, which consists of generating a psychological phenomenon by controlling all the variables to see what causes it and what consequences it has. That is, it is intended to see the causal link between one event and another that comes later.
For example, experiments measuring the effectiveness of different types of psychotherapy are an example of this. In them, it is observed how a series of patients are involved in a psychological intervention program and, once the necessary time has passed, it is observed what changes have occurred in them, and these results are compared with the state of other people who have not undergone treatment (to better isolate variables).
Sociology, on the other hand, is not characterized by using the experimental method, but rather is based on the correlational method (although the latter is also used by psychology).
The correlational method does not allow knowing which causes produce what effect, but rather describes reality by showing trends that occur at the same time and that may or may not have a causal link between them.
For example, if the richest people tend to vote more for a party, a correlation will be registered between the amount of money that is won and the probabilities of voting for that electoral option. However, in this way it is not known if these people decide to use their vote in this way because that is the party that best fits their ideology, or if they do it to prevent another party from winning despite the fact that there is another very minority that represents better your view of the world.
Ultimately, sociology renounces knowing very well the causes of what it studies, because what it analyzes is a historical process that is constantly changing over time and, consequently, it is not possible to extract universal and timeless laws about it.
4. The size of the groups
Both disciplines can base their research on the observation of groups of people, although we have already seen that psychology and sociology differ in a fundamental qualitative aspect: the first studies rather the effect of the social on the individual and the second studies the collective phenomena themselves.
However, there is in addition to this other difference related to the use of groups in research. In this case, it is a quantitative difference; psychology focuses on small groups, while sociology tends to investigate much larger collective phenomena, involving thousands of people.