Experimental Social Psychology - Strengths and Weaknesses

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Outline the main features of experimental social psychology and consider the influences that led to its emergence. What do you think are its strengths and weaknesses?

Psychology was originally a branch of Philosopy, according to Hollway (2007). As more emphasis was placed on following scientific methods and principles, psychologists began using laboratory experiments to carry out research into individual behaviours. Experiments were considered to be more objective when considering individuals within the social world. Researchers were able to separate different situations that occurred in natural settings in an attempt to replicate particular aspects in a laboratory environment.
One of the earliest examples of contemporary social psychology, according to Hollway (2007) was that espoused by Walter Moede. In his 1920 pamphlet on Experimental Group Psychology he suggested the use of laboratory settings to measure group behaviour which would allow different effects to be manipulated. Moede’s work influenced the American, when Allport who, by using Moede’s approach, investigated how people’s judgemental abilities are affected by their group membership. This was considered the start of North American experimental social psychology, which focused on understanding how social stimuli impacted on individuals. A second form of social psychology, sociological social psychology developed alongside the experimental methodology. This version involved the individual and social interaction focusing more on the use of naturalistic observations and surveys.
Mainstream social psychology in the United Kingdom was influenced by the experimental tradition of North America. Miles Hewstone and Antony Manstead, in the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Social Psychology defined Social Psychology as “the scientific study of the reciprocal influence of the individual and his or her social context” (1995, p.588, cited by Hollway, 2007). Their interpretation of scientific was empirical and mostly



References: Haslem, A. (2007) in DVD 1, DD307, The Open University Hollway, W. (2007) ‘Social psychology: past and present’, in W. Hollway, H. Lucey and A. Phoenix (eds) Social Psychology Matters, Milton Keynes, Open University Press. Hollway, W. (2007) ‘Methods and knowledge in social psychology’, in W. Hollway, H. Lucey and A. Phoenix (eds) Social Psychology Matters, Milton Keynes, Open University Press. Taylor, S. (2007) ‘Introduction’, in D. Langdridge and S. Taylor (eds) Critical Readings in Social Psychology, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

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