Psychology studies include the branch of social psychology, which blends psychology and sociology to understand human interaction, how perception is conceived through others, and social identity based on culture, race and gender.
Here are some research paper topics in social psychology dealing with racial profiling, gender identity and self-perception theory.
Racial and ethnic profiling
A good term paper idea is to discuss the psychology in racial and ethnic profiling. Today, “stop-and-frisk” is a controversial policy. It says that police can stop anyone they think looks suspicious to potentially stop a crime before it happens. But it has been proven to be ineffectual, and police disproportionately target minorities. This type of policy is ripe for racial and ethnic profiling, assuming that people of a certain race or skin color are apt to commit more crimes.
The psychology of racial profiling runs deep within American culture. People see someone’s race and immediately make assumptions based on culture, history, politics, religion and many other factors. In his 2013 book, Seeing Race in Modern America, Matthew Pratt Guterl wrote: “We narrowly focus on what we assume is self-evident and obvious: the skin color divide between black and white. We set aside the smaller, easily synthesized ‘facts’ that make the narrower focus possible. And in doing so, we utterly fail to properly understand exactly how race gets seen, how it is made, and how it has changed—and not changed—over time.”
The psychological aspects of gender identity would make a good research paper topic. Many people can name at least one transgender person, such as Caitlyn Jenner, Chelsea Manning or Chaz Bono. The American Psychological Association explains that “Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity (sense of themselves as male or female) or gender expression differs from socially constructed norms associated with their birth sex.”
Writing in “Aspects of Gender Identity Development: Searching for an Explanation in the Brain,” at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, Elizabeth Glaeser explained, “Psychologists consider some individual characteristics to be fixed while others are understood as flexible, such as preferences and intellectual ability… A small percentage of our population feels that their ‘brain’ is one gender while their ‘body’ is another.” Glaeser added, “Past research has demonstrated that when GID [Gender Identity Disorder] is experienced in childhood, it has been correlated with low self-esteem and has been disruptive of healthy identity development (Hepp et al., 2005)…. The lack of understanding about the true causes and considerations involved in GID only leaves room for discriminatory, stereotyped classification of individuals developing gender identities.”
For your social psychology class, you could write about self-perception theory. In 1972, social psychologist Daryl Bem formalized an explanation of how people acquire attitudes and traits. He said they draw inferences about what kind of person they are by observing their own behavior. For example, if you return a lost wallet then you’re an honest person. But the inference is not so linear. In “We Are What We Do,” posted in Psychology Today, January 7, 2012, Timothy D. Wilson, Ph.D., explained, “Our behavior is shaped by subtle pressures around us, but we fail to recognize those pressures. As a result, we mistakenly believe that our behavior emanated from some inner disposition. Perhaps we aren’t particularly trustworthy and instead returned the wallet in order to impress the people around us.”
For more information, check out Questia’s library on Social Psychology.
What are other ways we perceive ourselves and those around us? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.