Psychology, PhD (Social Psychology)

The doctoral program in Psychology with an emphasis on social psychology is designed to train researchers to use rigorous scientific methods to uncover the fundamental principles underlying social behavior and to address practical questions about everyday relations among people.

Program Description

Degree Awarded: Psychology, PhD

The doctoral program in Psychology with an emphasis on social psychology is a component of the Robert B. Cialdini Social Psychology Laboratories designed to train researchers to use rigorous scientific methods to uncover the fundamental principles underlying social behavior and to address practical questions about everyday relations among people. Our students combine continuous involvement in research with a series of courses designed to provide broad substantive knowledge, as well as methodological and quantitative expertise.

Since its implementation in 1973, the psychology Ph.D. program with an emphasis in social psychology at ASU has greatly grown and is now widely recognized as among the best such programs in the country. How do we account for this success?  Probably the best answer is that the faculty and students of the ASU social psychology program have been a highly productive group over the years in conducting research at the national and international level and in teaching at the university level. The unique collaboration between faculty mentors and graduate students provides a commitment to solutions for real-world problems, such as cultural biases and how we can all work towards universal goals. 

 The goals of our program are to:

  • provide a setting in which students can grow toward mature roles as researchers, marketing professionals, social workers, counselors, teachers, and consultants in basic and applied areas of social psychology.
  • advance basic knowledge in psychology and apply that knowledge to society; and
  • make continuing contributions to our discipline through the achievements of the program’s graduates.

IMPORTANT: To be considered for PhD program, you must complete the application through ASU's online portal AND submit your material through Slideroom.

The Robert B. Cialdini Social Psychology Research Laboratories

CARMA Lab (Cohen)

Cooperation and Conflict Lab (Aktipis)

Cultural Ecology Lab (Varnum)

Culture and Decision Science Network Lab (Kwan)

Evolutionary Social Psychology Co-Laboratory (Kenrick-Neuberg-Becker-Varnum)

Evolution, Ecology, and Social Behavior Lab (Neuberg)

SPLAT Lab (Shiota)

Fellowships Faculty Research Labs

Student Handbook


Areas of Interest

The productivity of the doctoral program in Psychology has been facilitated by two main factors:

1. Our faculty value one another's work and enjoy collaborating on research projects. It is common for faculty to publish jointly, and it is almost invariably the case that, when a faculty member produces an article or book chapter, at least one student from the program is a co-author;

2. The dialogue between traditional theoretical/academic perspectives on social psychology and the view that social psychology can be profitably applied to social problems, business, health, and family.

Several of the faculty combine social psychological theory with direct application to societal issues. Accordingly, the Program has developed an international reputation for providing a dual emphasis in these complementary arenas of theoretical and applied work. 


A minimum of 84 hours is required across five years. Students are expected to conduct a first-year project under the direct supervision of the student’s advisor. Following the first-year project, students will undertake a Master's Thesis. Additionally, all students will be required to complete a 12-credit dissertation and defense at the end of their PhD.  Please see accordion below for year breakdown:

Requirements and electives


Core courses








Total hours required


Courses and electives

Students in the Social Psychology training area ordinarily receive coursework training in four distinguishable areas: 1. Social Psychology, 2. Quantitative Methods, 3. Psychological Foundations, 4. Research Activites.

The coursework for each student is individualized and based on the student's year, previous training, and faculty mentor. Each student will participate in research with faculty while completing their doctoral program. 

Students will take three core courses covering Social Psychology, four core courses covering Quantitative Methods, and three Social Psychology electives to expand their breadth of study, and one graduate level elective. Students will also be expected to participate in research courses and a doctoral dissertation. 

See the accordion below to see the breakdown of electives and requirements. 

At a Glance

Degree Requirements

The 84-hour program of study includes a first-year project, a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive, a prospectus and a dissertation. Prospective doctoral candidates should have a passion and interest in social science, have demonstrated research skills in a senior thesis and have a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA. 

Admission Requirements

The Department of Psychology application process is completed online through ASU Graduate Admissions. Prospective students must submit the admission application form along with the fee and official transcripts.

For the department’s doctoral programs, students must submit supplemental application materials through SlideRoom, which requires an additional fee. For complete instructions for applying to the PhD program, visit our Doctoral Admission requirements page.

+ Year 1

In the initial year of residence, students take the first course of the social psychology proseminar series; a seminar for current topics in social psychology; and quantitative and methodology courses. Immediately upon entering the program students also become involved in one or more research programs where they directly work with faculty members. These research affiliations are flexible and it is expected that students will participate in research with several faculty members while completing the doctoral program. 

Fall Semester:

  • PSY 551 Advanced Social Psychology
  • PSY 530 ANOVA Statistics
  • PSY 591a Current Topics in Social
  • PSY 592 Research

Spring Semester:

  • PSY 531 Mult. Corr & Regr. Statistics
  • PSY 600 Experimental Design Research
  • Social Psychology Recommended Elective
  • PSY 592 Research

+ Year 2

Year 2

In the second year, students take the second course in the social psychology proseminar series; continue to develop their statistical knowledge and skills; and complete and defend an independent research project to be reported as a master's thesis in passing for the M.A. degree. In the second and third year of a student's residence, he/she is also expected to enroll in the advanced courses available in the social psychology program. In addition, students are required during their time in the program to take two courses in other areas of psychology and are encouraged to begin enrolling in other relevant courses within the department and across the university.

Fall Semester:

  • PSY 550 Advanced Social Psychology
  • PSY 532 Multivariate Statistics
  • PSY 599 Thesis Research (3–6 hrs)

Spring Semester:

  • Psychology Core Required Elective
  • Q & M Required Elective
  • PSY 599 Thesis Research (3–6 hours)
  • Master’s Degree awarded

+ Year 3

Year 3

 In the third year, students concentrate much of their effort on the development of a major area paper.

There are currently three options for this project:

  • Option 1 is to review and integrate a substantive topic in social psychology. This paper follows the model of articles in Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Review, or Personality and Social Psychology Review.
  • Option 2 is to prepare a grant proposal—often a pre-doctoral fellowship application—for submission to a major federal agency or private foundation. Such proposals may be for a program of basic or applied research.
  • Option 3 is to perform and report a meta–analysis, a quantitative technique for distilling major findings from existing literature.

When the project has been completed and accepted by the faculty, it becomes the basis for an oral exam that focuses in part on the content defined by the project and in part, on the student's level of preparation within other topics in social psychology and related topics across the entire discipline ("comprehensives”). Upon defending this examination, the student is advanced to Ph.D. candidacy.

Fall Semester:

  • Social Psychology Required Elective
  • Q&M Required Elective
  • PSY 792 Research (3–6 hrs)

Spring Semester:

  • Psychology Core Required Elective
  • PSY 792 Research (3–9 hours)
  • Comprehensive Examination

+ Year 4 & 5

Year 4 (& 5)

The fourth and, typically, fifth years of enrollment are devoted to continuing research projects and the doctoral dissertation. The student may also acquire teaching experience and undertake additional coursework. The program offers a graduate teaching seminar that includes supervised teaching experience that students may take after earning their master's degree. In addition, the formal curriculum is supplemented by a bi–weekly informal research meeting in which all members of the program participate. The whole social psychology group meets in the evening at a faculty member’s home to share ideas about research projects in the formative stages of development. The seminar is highly interactive and lively, providing useful feedback while offering a training ground for young critics.

Fall Semester:

  • Elective PSY 792 Research (9 hours)
  • Dissertation Prospectus

Spring Semester:

  • Elective PSY 799 Dissertation (9 hrs)
  • PhD awarded. 

+ Projects, Thesis, Dissertation (12 credit hours)

First Year Project. The first year project involves designing, conducting, and reporting research under the direct supervision of the student’s advisor.  By the end of the student’s first semester, two additional faculty members, called "readers," are selected to assist in the development of the project. The student must meet with the readers (either separately or as a committee) at least once. Also by the end of the first semester, the student will give a presentation of the plans for the first year project. No later than two weeks before the end of the second semester, the student provides to all faculty a written draft describing the project. The readers provide feedback to the student. The student gives an oral presentation to the Seminar by the end of the student's second semester.

Master’s Thesis. The master's thesis is typically undertaken in the second year and defended during the third year. It is an original piece of research, closely supervised by the research advisor and an advisory committee. The thesis leads to the MA degree, which is considered to be a "masters in passing."  After forming a master’s thesis committee, the student must complete a three-step process:  (1) defend a written prospectus; (2) after data collection, conduct a “data meeting” at which the analyses are reviewed by the committee; and (3) pass a defense of the thesis.

Comprehensive Examination

During the third or fourth year of doctoral studies, the student concentrates much of his or her effort on a scholarly review of the areas of Social Psychology. The student works with four committee members to put together a reading list upon which the Comprehensive Exams — written and oral — are based. The student has the choice of completing a "closed-book," two-day written exam or an "open-book," two-week written exam. The oral exam is conducted one week after the conclusion of the written exam and serves to clarify the student's answers to the written questions. Often, the literature review that the student conducts during this time period becomes the basis of the doctoral dissertation.

Doctoral Dissertation (12 hours)

The doctoral dissertation is an extensive piece of original research that demonstrates the capability of the student to act as an independent scholar and use experimental methods. The dissertation is closely supervised by the research advisor and three additional faculty members who constitute the dissertation committee. As with the master’s thesis, there are three components. First, the student writes a formal dissertation proposal and defends it to the committee. After the defense, the student is admitted to PhD candidacy by the Graduate College. Second, following data collection, there is a "data meeting" at which the analyses are reviewed by the committee. The process culminates with the student's defense of the dissertation before the committee and the academic community.


Ideally, the typical student’s program of study will take five years for completion. In recognition that the program enrolls students who have basic and applied interests that may require specialized training experiences involving additional coursework or will engage in time-consuming community-based research, the program allows for some flexibility in milestone timing for students who demonstrate excellence in other areas of performance.

This flexibility reflects negotiations with the student’s faculty advisor/mentor. The program faculty shall monitor student progress towards training goals. The student's annual evaluation will include specific feedback about what the student is expected to do to stay on track with regard to milestone timing. Students who do not meet timing expectations will be put on probation. After a year of probationary status, progress will be considered unsatisfactory if expectations continue to be unmet.

To be considered as making satisfactory progress, students who enter the psychology PhD program with a bachelor’s degree must:

  • Successfully defend their master's within three years,

  • Complete and defend the comprehensive examination within two years following completion of the Masters, oral defense, and

  • Complete and defend the dissertation within two years following completion of the comprehensive examination.

To be considered as making satisfactory progress, students who enter the psychology PhD program with a master’s degree must:

  • Complete and defend the comprehensive examination within four years, and

  • Complete and defend the dissertation within two years following completion of the comprehensive examination.

+ Core Courses (24 credit hours)

1. Social Psychology

  • PSY 550 Advanced Social Psychology
  • PSY 551 Advanced Social Psychology
  • PSY 591 Current Topics in Social Psychology

2. Quantitative / Methods 

  • PSY 530  Intermediate Statistics
  • PSY 531  Multiple Regression in Psychological Research
  • PSY 532  Analysis of Multivariate Data
  • PSY 600  Design of Experiments in Social Psychology

+ Electives (6 credit hours)

1. Social Psychology
REQUIRED ELECTIVES: Students will take at least three additional content courses in social psychology from among those courses and seminars offered by the social psychology faculty. 

2. Quantitative / Methods 
REQUIRED ELECTIVES: Students will  take at least one additional graduate level course in quantitative and Methodological areas related to social psychological research to improve their technical skills. These courses may be taught by department faculty, or, with the approval of the program, be offered by related departments on campus.

  • PSY 555 Quasi–Experimental Designs for Research

3. Psychological Foundations 
REQUIRED ELECTIVES: Students will take at least two courses in the development, biological, cognitive, or clinical bases of human behavior that will enable the student to bring a broader perspective to creative scholarship. These courses, from at least two of the bases of behavior mentioned above, are taught by psychology department faculty and must be approved by the program.

+ Research Activities (42 credit hours)

4. Research Activities
Students are required to develop competence in one or more substantive areas of research and theory, in which the student attempts to make a unique scholarly contribution.

This is typically achieved by: 

1) involvement in the ongoing research program of one or more mentors, for which the student receives academic credit through the Supervised Research courses, such as:

  • PSY 592
  • PSY 692
  • PSY 792

2) Master's Thesis (PSY 599) and Dissertation (PSY 799) courses, and

3) passing the comprehensive examination requirement. The three sets of required electives stated above should be regarded as default assumptions, and are viewed as appropriate for the typical social psychology student in the program. Individual needs and goals may vary from this typical pattern, and exceptions and substitutions may be proposed to the program. Only under unusual circumstances will petitions be approved that attempt to make substitutions for the eight required courses listed above. Advisors should be consulted before enrolling in courses that are intended to meet breadth requirements.

PROGRESS REPORTS: All students submit progress reports and self–evaluations to the program each year. This document describes progress towards meeting the student's curricular goals as well as updating his/her research agenda. It proposes any modifications to the earlier curricular plan, together with justification for these changes. It identifies short–term plans for the next year that fit with the student's longer term training goals. This document is used by the program faculty as its basis for providing evaluative and, if needed, corrective feedback each year. 

Next Steps to Attend ASU

Learn about our programs

Request information

Apply to a program

Apply now

Visit our campus

Schedule a visit

Global Opportunities

With over 250 programs in more than 65 countries (ranging from one week to one year), study abroad is possible for all ASU students wishing to gain global skills and knowledge in preparation for a 21st-century career. Students earn ASU credit for completed courses, while staying on track for graduation, and may apply financial aid and scholarships toward program costs.

Request Information

If you have questions related to admission, please click here to request information and an admission specialist will reach out to you directly.