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What's the Difference Between Psychology and Sociology?

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The main difference between Psychology and Sociology is the scope of the study. Psychology focuses on the understanding of an individual’s cognition, emotion, perception and behavior. Sociology, on the other hand, examines and determines the influence of societal structure, societal processes, and societal phenomena on people that belong to a certain group collectively.

What is Psychology?

William James, pioneer of the Psychological Sciences

The term Psychology was derived from the Greek word “Psyche” meaning spirit or soul and “Logos” meaning to study or to research. According to the American Psychological Association, Psychology is defined as the study of mind and behavior. Generally, it is accepted that Psychology is the study of the issues of an individual concerning its learning, cognition, emotion and perception and how genetics and the environment influence them.

In the 19th Century, Psychology became a formal discipline and science because of the efforts of Wilhelm Wundt in Germany and William James in the US. According to William James, in his book “The Principles of Psychology”, Psychology is defined as the science of mental life. In the 20th Century, John B. Watson promoted that studies, especially behaviorism, should objectively deal with observable and measurable actions and conditions. Ultimately, the subject of consciousness was removed from Psychology in 1913.

What is Sociology?

Auguste Compte, the Father of Sociology

The term Sociology was derived from the Latin word “socius” meaning companion or fellowship and “logia” meaning logic or study. According to the American Psychological Association, Sociology means “the scientific study of the origin, development, organization, forms, and functioning of human society, including the analysis of the relationships between individuals and groups, institutions, and society itself.” It can be inferred that Sociology examines and studies human behavior collectively. It emphasizes how external groups influence one's behavior. It aims to explain social phenomena on a societal scale.

Early concepts of sociology could be traced back to the ancient Greeks. By the 18th to the 19th century, Sociology parted ways with Moral Philosophy and became its own specialized discipline. The term “Sociology” was 1st coined by Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes, a French essayist, in his unpublished manuscript. However, “Sociology” was later defined and even more fleshed out in 1838 by another French philosopher, Auguste Comte. He attempted to unify history, psychology, and economics in an attempt to understand social life scientifically.

Differences Between Psychology and Sociology

Psychology and Sociology are both branches of Science that deal with the study of human behavior. They both use scientific methods and processes in order to explore, explain, and extrapolate information in regard to the findings in their respective fields. However, there are key differences that separate one from the other.


Psychology focuses on an individual’s mental processes and behavior. It is an attempt to understand an individual in response to internal or external stimuli. It is concentrated on studying an individual’s cognition, emotion, and behavior through research, analysis, and management.

Sociology investigates and explains issues that are happening on a macro level. Sociology studies social phenomena, societal issues, institutions, or a group of people.

Training and Career Opportunities

Psychologists are degree holders that should pass a licensure examination in order to be considered an official practitioners in the field. Psychologists could be found working in hospitals, health clinics, schools, rehabilitation centers, or large corporations. Psychologists can also do clinical practices, neuroscience research, and psychotherapists.

Sociologists, on the other hand, don't require licenses for professionals to venture into this field. An individual with a degree in sociology or other related fields of study could be found working in criminal justice systems, welfare organizations, private corporations, educational institutions and so on. Sociologists could be researchers, paralegals, PR officers, and data analysts.

Focus of Study

Psychologists focus on studying memory, intelligence, emotion, cognitive and emotional capabilities, and brain development. Psychologists also analyze and explore issues on mental illnesses, disorders, and addictions. Psychology evaluates how an individual reacts to its own kind or to the environment around it.

Sociologists focus on studying issues on a larger scale. Sociologists give light and explanations to societal issues like poverty, gender inequality, racial discrimination and other issues that surround societies. Sociologists also could tackle the influences of religion, age, and other demographic factors that might affect the behavior of a population collectively. Sociologists are more concerned with social structures and policies.

Notable Publications and Subjects

In Psychology, students are expected to be introduced to “The Little Albert” Experiment, “The Stanford Prison” Experiment, and “Learned Helplessness”. Some topics that Psychologists have undertaken are Research Methods, Interviewing and Counseling skills, Leaning Psychology, and Physiological Psychology.

In Sociology, students are expected to be introduced to “Fast Food Nation”, “The Culture of Fear”, and the “Asch Experiments”. Some topics that Sociologists have undertaken are Globalization, Diversity and Equality, Methods of Social Research, and Medical Institutions.

Comparison Chart: Psychology Vs Sociology

Training and Career OpportunitiesLicensed
Clinical Practices, Neuroscience Research, Psychotherapists
No License required
PR Officers, Paralegals, Data analystsFocus of StudyIllnesses, Disorders, AddictionsSocietal Issues, Social Structures, PoliciesNotable PublicationsThe Little Albert Experiment, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Learned HelplessnessFast Food Nation, The Culture of Fear, The Asch Experiments

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Historical Roots of Psychology?

Historically, the essence of the practice of Psychology could be traced back to ancient Greece, Egypt, India, and China. Some concepts of Psychology could be seen in religious teachings from ancient civilizations. Psychology doesn’t only refer to the study and research but also the diagnosis and treatment of cognitive and behavioral disorders. It is believed that the 1st hospital that offered treatments for psychiatric conditions was founded by Islamic doctors in 980 AD.

Who is the Father of Sociology?

Although he is not credited formally, the French Philosopher Auguste Comte is considered the Father of Sociology. Comte believed that scientific analyses could discover the laws governing social lives just as there are laws, like physics, that our physical world obeys.

Is Sociology and Social Psychology the Same?

Sociology is the collective study of human behavior in response to societal issues such as Globalization, Poverty, and Racial Discrimination. Social Psychology, on the other hand, studies an individual’s response to issues surrounding it in relation to its gender, genetics, environment, and experiences.


Psychology and Sociology are attempts to explore and explain humanity collectively or individually. Both are significant studies to better understand and function well independently or in society. Thanks to these studies, humanity has never become better, not only in terms of advancement in technology but also in how to become a better human being.


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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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