The History of Social Psychology

There are many explanations for the origins of modern social psychology. It is therefore important to consider that social psychology cannot be traced back to one single source of origin (Burr, 2003). Hence, this is the reason why there are debates of what social psychology is. Allport (1985) described social psychology as “the study of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours which are influenced by the actual, imagines, or implied presence of others”. As seen from this definition there is a direct link between social science and the individual psychology (Sewel, 1989). Social psychology cannot be seen as a linear phenomenon. This is because social psychology has derived from combination of influences. The development of social psychology can be discussed in two different ways. Firstly, social psychology is argued to be found upon political movements and social philosophies in the United Stated of America (US). Secondary, it can be argued that social psychology developed due to the response of social and political needs.
3. There have been debates regarding whether social psychology should be dealt as a natural science or not. The ideology of natural science is very important as it affects the way the social psychologist deal with situations. For example, if there are specific scientific objectives then the study is laboratory based and uses experimental procedures in order to gain knowledge. Psychologists who use this positivistic method are classified as experimental social psychologists. On the other hand, critical-social psychology has competed with experimental-social psychologists. The strength of the critical-social psychologists is that they use a range of different methods in research, and are not limited to scientific knowledge. This includes both qualitative and quantitative methods. Overall, critical social psychologists are described as having a critical ideology in order to uncover meanings of social phenomena (Gough & McFadden, 2001). Both critical and experimental social psychology form the modern social psychology due to their important historical context. Experimental-social psychology is argued to be derived from the American tradition, and critical-social psychology has been argued to be derived from the European tradition. Although this has formed two distinct approaches in the use of methodology in psychology, there are still on-going debates over psychology as a science or not.

4. An important contribution that has made a great impact on the modern social psychology was from William McDougall. McDougall proposed for an evolutionary psychology, which was influenced by Darwin’s theory. Especially with the dominant fields of sociology and anthropology, McDougall was able to link science, sociology and psychology (McDougall, 1919). However, McDougall’s research in social evolution was also interpreted as radical due to the racism involved in behaviour gene inheritance. This shows that even though McDougall’s work has been a start point to the origins of social psychology, it has also led to misconcepts especially in the Western society. Another person who contributed to the origins of social psychology was William James which developed the theory of ‘stream of consciousness’. The strength of the ‘stream of consciousness’ was that it was not only using the introspect technique. The reason why James made an influence in social psychology is due to the step taken from introspection, in order to understand the human’s behaviour by their emotions and thoughts.
5. Although both McDougall and James made a great contribution to social psychology, especially in the context of theories and research, their interpretations are different. This difference is due to the discussion of human nature of free will. Overall, McDougall can be described as the origin of the European tradition of social psychology. This is because he believed an individual lacks free will due to the social and cultural forces. Whereas James can be described as the origins of the American tradition of social psychology. This is because James explained that individuals are conscious of their own decisions. Furthermore, James is an influencing figure in the philosophical movement of Pragmatism. Pragmatism approached ideologies and propositions with practical ideas, e.g. experimental validity.
9. The emergence of experimental social psychology is very different to critical social psychology. Rogers (2004) clarified the first social psychology experiments to be Triplett’s study on dynamogenic influence. In basic terms Triplett’s noticed that children performed better when in competition with others. Triplett’s study can now interpreted as social influence. However, Hogg & Vaughan (1998) argues that Triplett’s study cannot be explained as the first social psychology study because it was recognised later on when the study was reformed. Nevertheless, Triplett’s study established the use of experimental methodology in his investigation.
6. Volkerpsychologie was a movement in Germany in the late nineteenth century. The Volkerpsycholgie disciple tried to explain the reasons behind social groupings as collective dimension (Rogers, 2003). The social groups in Germany where mainly dominant of specific German nationalist character. From these German characters it was proposed that language and culture had a role in individual perception and thinking. This led to Wundt’s proposition of using experimental psychology in order to investigate language and culture. Hence, Wundt is described as the ‘founder of experimental psychology’ (Burr, 2004). As an experimental psychologist Wundt believed psychology was a natural science, which is the reason why Wundt used introspection technique to interpret the consciousness, inner-thoughts, desires and sensations of individuals (English, 1921). However he did not ignore the philosophy of psychology, particularly with the rise of crowd-psychology. The history of crowd psychology links to the French Revolution in 1789-1799. Crowd psychology can be described as a collectivist approach, in which the term ‘social’ is critical to our understanding, largely due to group influence and culture.
7. Between the periods of French revolution a lot of philosophical thinkers, including Comte and Durkheim, became interested on how the society and individuals influence each other. With the vast amount of literature emerging in France on social ideas the French-social theory began to develop. The French-social theory introduced Positivism, as of Comte. The doctrine of positivism allowed philosophy and science to be separated in order for science to become distinguished. However, the positivistic approach also was a major factor in the separation of American and European social psychology (Farr, 1996). This is why Comte can be perceived as the founder of social psychology (ALLPORT 1954). Comte’s work was influenced but also debated by Durkheim (Poggi, 2000W). Durkheim’s addition to French-social theory was the method of comparative, which is devised of observation (Randall, 1975W). The study of social representation became very famous in the French revolution period, particularly Durkheim’s research that showed collective representation within a society (Farr, 1996). One of the major influences that this had on the modern social psychology is from Moscovici study. Moscovici noted Durkheim as his influence for his study in social representation (Farr, 1996). Social representation theory brought a new development to the social psychology, which is now described as critical social psychology.
8. With the French revolution the philosophical era of Enlightenment emerged. Enlightenment era brought civilisation to individuals, away from the religious authority of the church (Burr, 2004). This allowed individual’s to search for truth of reality, by means of reasoning. The ‘search for truth’ allowed individuals to explore social phenomena. For example; the ideology of Marx on social class and labour, Piaget’s reasoning of child development. Within the period of Enlightenment two different theoretical concepts arose; Modernism and Postmodernism. The assumption of science as the foundation to knowledge is constructed by modernism. The principles of modernism are described as; democracy, liberal individualism, liberal humanism, and science (Roger, 2003). The science established by modernism, brought a progress from the knowledge gained from the religious beliefs to the knowledge gained from scientific methods. However, postmodernism argues that knowledge is not discovered but rather constructed. Postmodernism also argue that there is multiple variety of knowledge, which the individual constructs by means of reasoning. The individuals construct their knowledge’s due to situation factors including culture and society in different locations. For example, the psychological illness of depression cannot always be diagnosed with the same scientific tests in different cultures. The principle of the postmodernisms has had a key impact on critical social psychology. Even though modernism and postmodernism are opposite terms, critically speaking both have established a European tradition of collectivistic approach.
9. The emergence of experimental social psychology is very different to critical social psychology. Rogers (2004) clarified the first social psychology experiments to be Triplett’s study on dynamogenic influence. In basic terms Triplett’s noticed that children performed better when in competition with others. Triplett’s study can now interpreted as social influence. However, Hogg & Vaughan (1998) argues that Triplett’s study cannot be explained as the first social psychology study because it was recognised later on when the study was reformed. Nevertheless, Triplett’s study established the use of experimental methodology in his investigation.
2. One of the most significant event is social psychology is the World War 2 (WWII). Post war issues of social warfare arouse, which had an influence on social science applications. This event of WWII made the start of social psychology in the US in 20th century (Cartwright, 1979). This is mainly due the large amount of research conducted to investigate the reasons behind the Nazis attack on the Jews in WWII. Some psychologist including Lewin immigrated Germany to the US in order to conduct research on the areas of organisations and groups. He is now generally described as the ‘founder of social psychology’. Another researcher who also immigrated to the US was Moscovici who presented revolutionary findings in social representation in the field of minority influence. However, the main aim of social psychology research in the US was on government regulations of propaganda. Throughout this period the American tradition of social psychology started to emerge. The American tradition was an individualistic one which emphasises on individual importance, e.g. the society is made up of individual 1, individual 2, individual 3, ect.
Overall the American tradition can be interpreted as the historical roots of social psychology. Whereas the European tradition can be interpreted as the philosophical roots of social psychology. The American root of social psychology now has a great impact on social cognitive approach. Social cognition includes attribution, stereotypes, autism, (Striano & Reid, 2008). The European roots of social psychology have led to social constructionism and social representation. The modern social psychology is now constructed with the American and European doctrines. However, due to the political events and developing researches in social psychology, the disciple has only been able to contain within America (Cartwright, 1979). On the other hand, Gergen (1973) argued that social psychology cannot be interpreted as a science because social psychology is historically and culturally specific, which is the reason why the discipline is continuously changing. Critically speaking, there is an advantage of different approaches to social psychology, as it views dilemmas in different perspectives.

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