The history of Social Psychology is quite short in comparison to other fields of science. In fact, Psychology overall has only been designated as a field of study all by itself for a short period of time. Psychology was once studied as a subfield of Philosophy. Social Psychology, however, was not established as a subfield of Psychology until around the turn of the 20th Century. Though there were at least two publications of research dealing with aspects of Social Psychology toward the end of the 19th Century, the field had not yet been classified as its own distinctive field of study until textbooks were comprised from which this new approach could be taught separately. Social Psychology truly owes its explosive growth to the infamous Adolf Hitler. Social Psychology became the foundation for understanding the social problems of the world and what caused them.
A Historical Perspective of Social Psychology
In the history of Social Psychology, there are discrepancies amongst its researchers as to through whom and how the field was actually established as a discipline. Some persons believe that the foundation of Social Psychology was established by the American psychologist Norman Triplett, due to the fact that he published the first research article concerning a Social Psychology experiment. Triplett observed the effects of bicyclists racing in a group. He then designed a carefully controlled experiment which studied the presence of others on the performance of individuals in competition. His studies showed that individuals will perform to a higher degree in such a setting. At around the same time period, another researcher studied the same effects of individuals in groups. Max Ringelmann's studies showed that individuals would perform worse in groups. This study was not published until approximately 15 years after Triplett's, though the research was done before Triplett's. This study, however, was not published until 1913.
Less well known is a book written 2000 years ago by Aristotle, titled Peri Psyches. It discusses much of the same things that psychology texts teach even today. Almost as many years ago, Socrates stated that people are social creatures who influence one another profoundly. (Rathus 1996) One could argue that Social Psychology has been around since the beginning of time, but the true roots lie in the organization of the discipline into a distinct format.
Therefore, most persons believe the actual founding of Social Psychology as a discipline stems from the first three texts published on the entire field of Social Psychology. The texts were published by three separate individuals. One English born named William McDougall (1908) as well as two Americans named Edward Ross (1908) and Floyd Allport (1924). These three men are assumed to have been the contributors of the true foundation of Social Psychology as it is today. Allport is especially deemed as the father of Social Psychology. His published textbook covered the interaction of individuals and their social context as well as the use of experimentation and the scientific method. (Brehm 2005)
Social Psychology's greatest growth spurt came during a horrendous world conflict from the 1930's to 50's. Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany which was followed by a torrent of social injustices and evils. This sparked many questions about what causes the social issues involved with an evil empire such as Nazi Germany was based on. Not only were there many questions to be answered now, but there were many social psychologists that fled to the United States to escape the war that was consuming Europe. These European social psychologists banded together with American social psychologists to form a critical mass which would give shape to the rapidly maturing field of Social Psychology. In 1936, Gordon Allport along with many other social psychologists formed a group known as the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. This group...
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Brehm, S., Kassin, S., and Fein, S. (2005). Social Psychology. (6th ed.).
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Danziger, K. (2000). Making social psychology experimental: A conceptual history, 1930 - 1970. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, vol. 36, pp. 329 - 47.
Gray, Peter. (1994). Psychology. (2nd ed.). New York: Worth.
Manstead, A. S. R., and Hewstone, M. (1995). The Blackwell encyclopedia of social psychology. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. (a qualitative summary)
Rathus, S. A. (1996). Psychology in the New Millennium. (6th ed.). Orlando,
FL: Harcourt Brace.
Richard, F. D., Bond, C. F., Jr., and Stokes-Zoota, J. J. (2003). One hundred years of social psychology quantitatively described. Review of General Psychology, vol. 7, pp. 331-36. (a quantitative summary)
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