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Comparing & Contrasting Psychology and Anthropology to Sociology

During the nineteenth century, philosophers tried to construct a science of society, or social science. Among the social sciences are subdivisions like anthropology, psychology and sociology which fall into this category. Social scientists rejected the idea that human activities occur at random and affirmed instead that all human activities reveal observed regularities or patterns. Gradually, social scientists refined such concepts as social class and kinship to explain these patterns.

By the end of the nineteenth century as knowledge became more technical and specialized, sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists each pursued different avenues of inquiry into social experience. Although each of these social scientists in one field borrowed ideas for other fields, each one tended to develop its own specialized language and distinctive concepts. What started as an all-encompassing effort to identify a single science of society became an endeavor marked by diversity, specialization, and often fragmentation. Today, the usual list of social sciences includes anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology and even history. For the purpose of this paper I will focus on the similarities between sociology, anthropology, and psychology.

Sociology is the study of social life, change and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure or groups, organization, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts. Since all human behavior is social, the subject matter of sociology ranges from the intimate family to the hostile mob; from organized crime to religious cults; from the divisions of race, gender and social class to the shared beliefs of a common culture; and from the sociology of work to the sociology of sports. Sociologists understand social inequality, patterns of behavior, forces of social change and resistance, and how social systems work. For example, an economist might study a corporation to figure out its impact on production, and a political scientist might assess how corporations try to influence political campaigns. In contrast, a sociologist would explore the social relationships that develop among workers with a corporation.

Anthropologists also study social behavior, but with a difference. Where sociologists focus on groups in advanced societies of the present, anthropologists have traditionally paid more attention to social relationships among so called primitive, preliterate peoples. However, in recent years this distinction has changed because anthropologists now also study social behavior in advanced societies. Anthropologists, however, are more likely to compare advanced societies with primitive societies. In this sense, anthropology encompasses a broader historical and geographical span than does sociology.

Psychology is a science dealing with mental phenomena and processes. Psychologists study emotions, perception, intelligence, consciousness, and the relationship between these phenomena and processes and the work of the glands and muscles. Psychologists are also interested in diseased or disordered mental states, and some psychologists provide therapy for individuals. However, some subdivisions of psychology have far more in common with natural sciences such as biology and chemistry than with sociology or any other social science for that matter. For example, physiological psychologists study the role of the brain, glands, and other organs in mental processes and often experiment on animals rather then humans. Many other subdivisions of psychology, however, resemble the social sciences, especially sociology; for example, social psychology. A social psychologists deal with the mental processes of groups. They might investigate the role of the family and the peer group in the mental development of the individual. Both sociologists and anthropologists also concern themselves with mental processes, for all social relationships among humans have psychological dimensions. The difference is that psychologists start out with mental processes, whereas sociologists and anthropologists usually begin with social relationships and then speculate about mental processes.

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