How Social Psychology Emerged as a Social Science?


Diego Sanchez

Social psychology is the scientific study of how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the presence of others. It emerged as a distinct discipline within the broader field of psychology in the early 20th century. This article aims to explore the factors that contributed to the emergence of social psychology as a social science.

The Influence of Gestalt Psychology

Gestalt psychology, which emerged in Germany in the late 19th century, played a crucial role in shaping social psychology. Gestalt psychologists emphasized that human behavior is influenced not only by individual characteristics but also by the context in which it occurs. This perspective laid the foundation for studying how individuals perceive and interpret social situations.

The Impact of World War II

World War II had a profound impact on many aspects of society, including psychological research. The atrocities committed during the war sparked an interest in understanding how ordinary people could be influenced to engage in acts of violence and aggression. This led to an increased focus on studying group dynamics and how individuals behave within a collective context.

The Milgram Experiment

The Milgram experiment, conducted by Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s, further highlighted the power of situational factors on individual behavior. Participants were instructed to administer electric shocks to another person under the authority of an experimenter. This study demonstrated that regular individuals could be easily persuaded to engage in harmful actions when placed in certain social situations.

Formation of Professional Organizations

In addition to these influential events, the formation of professional organizations dedicated to social psychology played a crucial role in establishing it as a social science discipline. The Society for Experimental Social Psychology (SESP) was founded in 1965, followed by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in 1974. These organizations provided a platform for researchers to share their findings, collaborate, and advance the field.

Advancements in Research Methodology

Advancements in research methodology also contributed to the emergence of social psychology as a social science. Researchers began adopting experimental methods to test hypotheses rigorously and measure social behaviors objectively. This shift towards scientific inquiry helped establish social psychology as a discipline grounded in empirical evidence.

Integration of Multiple Disciplines

Social psychology is an interdisciplinary field that draws on various disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and cognitive psychology. The integration of these different perspectives has enriched the study of human behavior within a social context. It allows researchers to explore complex phenomena from multiple angles, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of social psychological processes.

The Cognitive Revolution

The cognitive revolution in psychology during the 1950s and 1960s also had a significant impact on the development of social psychology. Researchers began examining how individuals process information about themselves and others, paving the way for cognitive social psychology. This subfield focuses on understanding how cognitive processes shape social interactions and influence behavior.

In conclusion,

Social psychology emerged as a distinct discipline within the broader field of psychology due to various factors such as the influence of Gestalt psychology, the impact of World War II, advancements in research methodology, and the integration of multiple disciplines. It continues to evolve today as researchers strive to understand the complex interplay between individuals and their social environment.