Social Psychology Theories: The Most Important and Useful Theories

The Most Important and Useful Single Idea/Theory from Social Psychology

The most important single idea/theory is Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer’s Effect. This theory focuses on personality traits and ways in which people may act in different ways. It holds that every human being always has the desire to help others and to make the world a better place. However, many end up acting in ways that hurt others. Lim (2017) explains that “Good people can be induced, seduced, and initiated into behaving in evil ways” (p. 45). The act of seducing and inducing someone to behave in evil ways is what Zimbardo refers to as the Lucifer effect. The researcher considers this theory critical in psychology, especially in managing human behavior, because of the approach it takes when analyzing deviant behavior. It acknowledges that the environment within which one is subjected and the influence that they have from other people directly influences their behavior.

No one is born a criminal, but the environment within which one is exposed over some time defines their behavior (Lim, 2017). This concept is specifically relevant to learning institutions and the criminal justice system. These institutions have the responsibility of defining the behavior of children. They have to understand that the behavior of these juveniles depends on the kind of environment they are exposed to (Apter, 2018). The only way of having a society of responsible people who respects the rule of law is to nurture positive behavior in children at these institutions. They need to learn about the benefits of embracing positive traits. They also need to learn that people cannot achieve success in life through crime. Eliminating negative influencers may be necessary to eliminate undesirable acts within society.

The Most Important Single Theorist

Sigmund Freud is the most important theorist in the field of social psychology. According to Lim (2017), Freud developed his theories based on experiments he conducted and personal experiences. One of the most important works that he published was psychosexual development. In this work, Freud talks about human sexuality and sexual drives at different stages of development. According to Tilahun (2017), the most impactful theory that Freud developed was the concept of id, ego, and super-ego. This theory explains factors that influence the behavior of people in various stages of development. It explains why sometimes people may act irrationally while others act with restraint. Children tend to be guided by the id, which explains why they tend to be impulsive and unconscious in their actions, only seeking pleasures without considering potential consequences.

Super-ego promotes moral roles, while ego moderates the two extremes and ensures that one acts rationally. The theory has received wide acceptance and application in modern-day social psychology practices. Sigmund Freud also developed the life drive and death drive concept. This concept explains some of the forces that drive people’s behavior. Sassenberg and Vliek (2019) explain that “Eros or life drive are positive forces that promote healthy practices in the society” (p. 129). They include practices such as procreation, social cooperation, and survival. On the other hand, Thanatos, also known as the death instinct, promotes acts that may put one in harm’s way. They include aggression, risky behavior such as abusing alcohol, and reliving the trauma. Sigmund explains that one needs to understand the two drives and how they define personal decisions.

The Strongest Personality Theory

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the strongest personality theory that is widely accepted in modern society. According to this personality theory, people tend to behave differently depending on the class they belong to in society. He developed a pyramid to explain the behavior. At the very bottom of the pyramid are the physiological needs that one needs to survive, such as food, water, rest, and warmth. At this stage, people tend to lead a modest lifestyle and are less demanding. Apter (2018) believes that at this stage, “One is always willing to do anything to get food and water, including putting their lives at risk” (p, 112). When the basics are made available, safety needs become necessary. Such an individual will now be concerned about the risk associated with some of their actions. At the third level, love and belongingness need become necessary.

When one is assured of the basic psychological needs and their security, they develop the desire to love and be loved. They yearn for intimate relationships and friends (Tilahun, 2017). At the second-highest level of the pyramid are the esteem needs. People at this stage have accomplished most of their desires in life and now develop a feeling of accomplishment. They view themselves as being superior to most of their peers in their society and demand respect from them. At the apex of the pyramid are the self-actualization needs. Maslow believes that at this stage, one has achieved their full potential and is satisfied with their current state of success. Figure 1 below shows the stages.

Maslow’s theory of needs (Livesley & Larstone, 2018, p. 57).
Figure 1. Maslow’s theory of needs (Livesley & Larstone, 2018, p. 57).

Insights Gained from Learning Theories

The researcher has gained knowledge from learning various psychological theories. The behavior of a person is influenced by numerous complex forces within the mind and in the external environment. Jaspal (2019) explains that “Actions that people take, both the good and the bad, are often based on numerous mental processes and forces within their immediate environment” (p. 90). As a person who has an interest in human behavior, learning these theories provide critical knowledge. For instance, the behavior of an individual is directly influenced by the forces they are subjected to as they developed. The majority of children who grow up in abusive environments are more likely to become criminals than those with supportive families. Some of the theories also help in explaining that others may have such a supportive family but still end up becoming criminals. Such individuals are often affected by other internal forces that define their behavior.

The knowledge gained from the analysis of these theories also helped in understanding why the behavior of people tends to change as they climb the social ladder. When one is poor, they tend to be humble, respectful of others, and willing to listen. However, such behavioral practices often change as one gains financial success. They become more demanding, selective, and sometimes even disrespectful of others (Apter, 2018). Maslow’s theory of needs helps in explaining events that happen, leading to such behavioral changes. Most importantly, the researcher now understands what it takes to provide a perfect environment for children to help them become responsible adults.

Important Insight about Abnormal Psychology and Therapy from the Film 28 Days

The film ‘28 days’ provides important insights about abnormal psychology and therapy that may help alcohol and drug addicts to overcome this social problem. Gwen Cummings has become an alcohol addict primarily because of the negative influence from her boyfriend, Jasper. She turns out at her sister’s wedding drunk and ruins the ceremony. She ends up crashing the limousine she stole at the wedding reception, and as such, she is taken to court (Thomas, 2000). The presiding judge gives her the option of spending 28 days in a rehab facility or having a jail term. She chooses to go to the rehab center. However, she struggles to overcome her addiction, especially because of the influence of his drunkard boyfriend.

Andrea, Gwen’s roommate and friend at the facility, is released ahead of her, but she leaves the rehab a bitter person because no one from her family ever visited and she feels rejected. She relapses back to the use of drugs and is found dead in the bathroom in what authorities believe is an overdose of drugs. Gwen is shocked but more determined to remain sober because of the knowledge of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. This film demonstrates that abnormal psychology or behavior may be reinforced with factors such as influence that people have and rejection from loved ones. Gwen was influenced by the boyfriend to become an alcoholic. She almost died in the accident while drunk. Tilahun (2017) warns that “when one feels uncared for by family and friends, they may end up embracing abnormal practices”. They will find a way of getting the attention they desire.


  1. Apter, M. J. (2018). Zigzag: Reversal and paradox in human personality. Matador.
  2. Jaspal, R. (2019). The social psychology of gay men. Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. Lim, T. N. (2017). Ecclesial recognition with Hegelian philosophy, social psychology & continental political theory: An interdisciplinary proposal. Brill Publishers.
  4. Livesley, W. J., & Larstone, R. (Eds.). (2018). Handbook of personality disorders: Theory, research, and treatment. The Guilford Press.
  5. Sassenberg, K., & Vliek, M. L. (Eds.). (2019). Social psychology in action: Evidence-based interventions from theory to practice. Springer International Publishing.
  6. Thomas, B. (2000). 28 days [Video]. YouTube. Web.
  7. Tilahun, Y. (2017). Social cognitive theory. How can gender mainstreaming be facilitated and inequality curbed. GRIN Verlag.

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Premium Papers. 2023. "Social Psychology Theories: The Most Important and Useful Theories." January 13, 2023.

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