Social Psychology: African and Western Perspectives


Social psychology is a separate branch within this science, which explores how different social events and influences reflect on people’s ways of thinking and behavior. As society is an integral part of each person’s life, and communication with others is a basic need, these occasions tend to have a significant impact on an individual (Baumeister & Bushman, 2019). It may define his or her preferences, belief, choices, plans, and worldview in general.

The development of society posed various social and psychological tasks for scientists, the solution of which became necessary for the improvement of such spheres of public life as politics, industrial relations and management, education, and others. Social psychology is, essentially, designed to deal with issues of concern to a particular community. In some parts of the planet, the most urgent problems are interracial relations, or discrimination against women.

In others, forth brought are issues of intercultural migration of the population, educational reforms, environmental awareness, or changes in the institution of family and marriage. Studying personality, social psychology simultaneously takes into account the micro- and macrosociety in which it is working. In terms of social phenomena, this branch of psychology helps to understand the feelings, values, and motives behind the actions of real people.

Key Concepts of Social Psychology

The Concept of Peoples’ Behavior

This branch of psychology has its unique fundamental concepts and theories. One of the core concepts involves the fact that peoples’ behavior is always driven by their personal goals or desire to fulfill their particular needs. An example could be an intention to understand selves, obtain certain social status, and others (Cherry, 2020; Baumeister & Bushman, 2019). Another theory implies that situation and its context may determine people’s reactions and decisions (Cherry, 2020). A combination of personal traits, specific circumstances, their context, and relationships with other people involved in a situation, may reveal even unusual behavioral patterns.

Social Actions and Interactions

Social interactions with people also appear an important factor, which influences self-concept and world perception. People compare selves with others, analyzing their character, beliefs, and abilities. Cherry (2020) remarks: “one common phenomenon is the expectation confirmation, where we tend to ignore unexpected attributes and look for evidence that confirms our preexisting beliefs about others” (para. 10).

Analyzing behavior of other people, individuals form and simply their perception of the world in general via obtaining stereotypes (Baumeister & Bushman, 2019). Finally, social psychology adheres to the theory of correspondent inferences (Baumeister & Bushman, 2019). People tend to make conclusion on personality of others on the basis of their actions, which can be both informative and misleading.

African and Western Perspectives

Despite being the same branch of psychology and having a number of similarities, there are differences between African and Western perspectives. Generally, Western distinctive feature is adhering to scientific methods of analyzing human behavior and ways of thinking, for instance, via observation or sensory information (Cycleback, 2020). Moreover, the perspective on social issues and their impact on people is strictly scientific.

Therefore, Western studies are always objective and supported by a range of experiments (Cycleback, 2020). However, this approach is ineffective in studying emotional and spiritual aspects of life, such as theology, mystical experience, and human feelings. Cycleback (2020) highlights: “The science of psychology avoids individual introspection, experimentation through subjective personal feelings, intuition. It considers many areas such as palm reading, crystals and mystic intuition to be pseudoscience” (para. 14). Therefore, it is possible to assume that Western studies might appear to be incomplete in some occasions.

Similarities and Differences between the African and Western Approaches

According to many studies, Africa is the cradle of humanity and the historical homeland of civilization as a worldwide phenomenon. It was there that the natural biological prerequisites of history matured, the formation of mankind took place, and the “genetic code” of the world civilization process was laid. Exactly in Africa, almost on a continental scale, fragments, modules, and blocks of the most ancient social structures and institutions have been born and preserved. These lay in the foundation of the classical civilizations of the East and pre-Columbian America, as well as early Antiquity and European Middle Ages, and, ultimately, shaped the future society of the West.


Historically, social psychology in the West developed in an environment where the differentiation of the psychological sciences into a number of areas and schools took place. Various schools and researchers began to study social psychology at the same time, and this undoubtedly affected the peculiarities of their approaches to the formulation and solution of both social and psychological problems. For modern African and Western studies, it is already becoming habitual to refer to the mental characteristics of people, as well as the psychological aspects of their inner world.

The peculiarities of behavior and interaction with “friends” and “aliens” are viewed quite similarly in both approaches. For example, according to the study of Tropp et al. (2017), “the histories of conflict in Northern Ireland and South Africa share some features common to many divided societies with legacies of conflict” (p. 239). The researches draw on the similarities between the conflict treatment in both regions. Tropp et al.’s (2017) findings suggest that “for both societies, greater positive contact can promote more positive intergroup attitudes and trust, as well as more positive perceptions of outgroup members’ intentions in working toward peace” (p. 247). Therefore, it is clear that the potential for forgiveness and positive relationship is similar for the Western and South African societies.


Some researches opposed humanism and African peoples’ harmonic relationship with nature, their collectivism and mutual assistance to the social antagonisms of the West, which manifests in the discrimination of man by man, and a barbaric attitude towards nature. It is within the framework of traditional African cultures that the vision of nature and the place of man in it has been living in for centuries.

In many regards, it can be the opposite of the classical European approach laid down by the Renaissance. Adams and van de Vijver (2017) state that “while one cannot deny the impact of the Western culture, studies of acculturation would need to consider incorporating the contextual diversity created by multiple interacting cultures” (p. 117). As an antithesis to the industrial conveyor thinking and negotiated consciousness, the ecological environment is socially perceived by Africans as an integral living organism, all parts of which are closely related to each other.

Thus, one of the key reasons for the inconsistency, or even direct conflict in the social psychology of the two, lies in between the two cultures. On the one side is the rational Western mentality of the conveyor-industrial era; on the other is the emotional worldview inherent in the traditional communal-tribal African society. In that sense, being neighbors on the current map of the world, Africa and Western countries lie in different historical times, which objectively inherent in their specific patterns of social life and psychological stereotypes.

For example, Worthington and Cowden (2017) claim that “in spite of the collectivism that exists in South Africa, forgiveness and interpersonal dynamics between dyadic, family, group, or organisational members have not been studied” (p. 303). This study dives into the aspects of the psychology of forgiveness in the South Africa. Worthington and Cowden (2017) also supply that “as the European and African cultures interact as they have in South Africa, different pushes for justice and reconciliation emerge from differing cultures” (p. 302). Thus, the authors have concluded that the forgiveness, as a concept, while sharing similar features between two cultures, remains a point of distinction still.

Related Social Issues of the South Africa

The socio-economic development of South Africa remains on the agenda of the world community and international organizations at least since the early 1960s – the beginning of the liberation of the continent from colonial dependence. For example, low levels of general literacy and education are quite an important problem for South African countries. In all countries in the region, the share of the population with basic tertiary education does not exceed even a tenth of the whole population. This is, consequently, the reason behind not only the lack of vertical elevators in society, but also an obstacle to industrialization and, therefore, further economic growth.

Strengthening the system of social protection of the most needy population continues to be one of the priorities of economic and social development. Most of the poor remain outside social safety nets, especially in low-income countries. Of the total population in the South Africa, only one in five has some kind of social protection, compared with two in three in upper middle-income countries. This gap is especially acute, as it affects the population’s access to education, medicine and mental health support.


One of the key problems of modern social psychology both in the South African and Western studies is the issue of interethnic relations. Specifically, interethnic relations do not only cover relations between ethnic groups, but also the attitudes towards a certain ethnic group. A perception of these groups may be adequate or inadequate on both sides, thus supplying the processes of stereotyping in creating an image of a certain group.

Social psychology in Western countries has fundamental differences from the South African approach, and these differences must be treated with respect. The base social issues of the South Africa differ strongly from the ones Western countries currently battle, thus, the strategies and solutions are quite different, too. Additionally, the historical aspects of the development of both regions offer even more reasons to not associate Western social psychology approaches to the ones appropriate for the South African ones.

The resemblances between two socioethnical branches of the same science are few and far between, and rather supply to the general highly differentiated approach that is recommended for studying these branches. Overall, it is quite obvious that the social psychology of the South African countries is quite hard to compare with the Western one due to the grand distinction in the structures of their respective societies.


Adams, B. G., & van de Vijver, F. J. (2017). Identity and acculturation: The case for Africa. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 27(2), 115–121. Web.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2019). Social psychology and human nature. Cengage.

Cherry, K. (2020). 5 important concepts in social psychology. Verywell Mind. Web.

Cycleback, M. D. (2020). Eastern versus Western psychology. Cycleback. Web.

Tropp, L. R., Hawi, D. R., O’Brien, T. C., Gheorghiu, M., Zetes, A., & Butz, D. A. (2017). Intergroup contact and the potential for post-conflict reconciliation: Studies in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 23(3), 239–249. Web.

Worthington, E. L., & Cowden, R. G. (2017). The psychology of forgiveness and its importance in South Africa. South African Journal of Psychology, 47(3), 292–304. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Social Psychology: African and Western Perspectives." September 18, 2023.

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PsychologyWriting. "Social Psychology: African and Western Perspectives." September 18, 2023.