Differences Between Sociology and Psychology

Sociology and psychology are closely related fields, which can be confusing for students trying to chart their future career path. While both fields concern the study of people, including thought, behavior and culture, the perspective is different.

Sociology tends to look at large groups of people, whereas psychology tends to look at individuals or small groups of people. For example, while a psychologist may help an individual struggling with drug addiction, a sociologist may study substance abuse through the lens of opioid addiction in a specific social class. Ultimately, a decision on the right field for you to study might come down to whether you want to focus on society at large or one person at a time the individual, or the system made up of people.

What is Sociology?

Sociology examines human social systems, like groups, societies and organizations, ranging from groups as small as a family to those as large as an entire religion. As a sociology student, you may examine various groups from different perspectives, like race, social class or religion. Sociology is rooted in research, and students can expect to learn research techniques with broad applications. For example, a sociology student may study the culture of prison inmates, corporate decision-making approaches, or family life in a religious group.

The broad application means sociology students can pursue a variety of career options in the field. Students with a BA in Sociology may pursue an array of career possibilities including law, social work, activism, law enforcement and healthcare.

Students may also earn a sociology degree as a foundation for pursuing a graduate degree.

What is Psychology?

Psychology uses an analytical lens to understand human behavior. Like sociology, many of the skills a student obtains from a psychology degree have very broad applications. Psychology students will learn how to diagnose and treat psychological disorders, assess learning disabilities, and understand racial and gender identity. Psychology blends these analytical skills with critical thinking to both understand behavior and treat it.

Psychology students should establish a strong base to pursue graduate study or, after earning your BA in Psychology, may be equipped to work in a variety of roles, such as childcare center director, social services manager, or occupational therapy assistant. Under the broad umbrella of psychology, you can pursue an array of specialties:

  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Applied behavior analysis
  • Clinical psychology
  • Criminal justice
  • Developmental psychology
  • Forensics
  • Human services
  • Marriage and family counseling

Required Skills for Psychology and Sociology

Both psychology and sociology require similar skills.

  • Communication. Sociologists and psychologists must be able to explain findings and interact with the people they study, both in written and verbal form.
  • Empathy. The study of people or systems often entails situations that are difficult and people who are vulnerable. Empathy will serve professionals well in these situations.
  • Ethics. Sociologists and psychologists will be privy to private information. These professionals must be trustworthy to best study people, and then use the information appropriately.
  • Versatility. Just as people are different, the findings, solutions and methods for interaction will vary as well. Psychologists and sociologists must be flexible and creative.
  • Listening. Skilled listeners demonstrate their engagement to their audience, clarify to improve understanding, and finish listening before drawing conclusions.
  • Interpersonal skills. People with strong interpersonal skills can work as a team, manage themselves and lead effectively.

If youre still grappling with which path is right for you, consider this: Would you rather understand the way a person thinks or study the way a group behaves?

If your answer is the former, then psychology may be the right path, as the discipline examines behavior of individuals or small groups. If your answer is the latter, sociology may be a good fit for you, with its emphasis on larger societal structures and organizations. A trusted instructor or advisor can also help you determine which subject to study.

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