How Was Social Psychology Developed?


Diego Sanchez

In the field of psychology, social psychology is a branch that focuses on how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the social environment. It explores various aspects such as social perception, attitudes, conformity, obedience, and group dynamics.

But how did social psychology develop into the field it is today? Let’s delve into its history.

The Beginnings of Social Psychology

Social psychology emerged as a distinct discipline in the late 19th century. Its roots can be traced back to the works of influential thinkers like Gustave Le Bon and Wilhelm Wundt.

Le Bon, a French psychologist, wrote “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind” in 1895. His work explored how individuals behave differently in groups compared to when they are alone. Le Bon argued that individuals in a crowd are more likely to exhibit impulsive and irrational behavior.

Wundt, a German psychologist often referred to as the “Father of Experimental Psychology,” also contributed to the development of social psychology. He conducted experiments that focused on understanding individual behavior within a social context.

The Influence of Gestalt Psychology

In the early 20th century, Gestalt psychology made significant contributions to social psychology. This approach emphasized that people perceive and interpret stimuli as organized wholes rather than isolated parts.

The Gestalt psychologists believed that individuals’ interpretations of social situations were influenced by their subjective experiences and perceptions. These perceptions shaped their attitudes and behaviors towards others.

The Impact of Behaviorism

Behaviorism, which gained prominence in the early 20th century, also had an impact on the development of social psychology. Behaviorists focused on observable behaviors and believed that individuals’ behaviors were shaped by their environment.

John B. Watson, one of the pioneers of behaviorism, conducted the famous “Little Albert” experiment in 1920. This experiment demonstrated how fear could be conditioned in humans through association. It highlighted how environmental factors can influence emotions and behavior.

The Birth of Social Psychology as a Discipline

Social psychology as a distinct discipline began to take shape in the 1930s and 1940s. The Norman Triplett‘s study on bicycle racing in 1898 is often considered as one of the first social psychology experiments.

However, it was during the post-World War II era that social psychology gained recognition as an independent field. This period saw significant contributions from psychologists such as Kurt Lewin, Muzafer Sherif, and Leon Festinger.

Kurt Lewin and Group Dynamics

Lewin’s work focused on understanding group dynamics and how they influenced individual behavior. He introduced concepts like “field theory” and emphasized the importance of studying individuals within their social context.

Muzafer Sherif and Social Norms

Sherif conducted experiments that examined how individuals’ behaviors are influenced by social norms. His famous Robbers Cave experiment demonstrated how intergroup conflicts can arise and be resolved through cooperation.

Leon Festinger and Cognitive Dissonance

Festinger’s work on cognitive dissonance revolutionized social psychology. He proposed that individuals experience discomfort when their beliefs or attitudes are inconsistent with their actions, leading them to seek consistency.

The Modern Era of Social Psychology

Social psychology continued to evolve in the latter half of the 20th century and into the present day. It expanded its focus to include topics like prejudice, stereotypes, interpersonal relationships, and social influence.

Today, social psychologists employ various research methods such as experiments, surveys, and observations to understand and explain human behavior within social contexts.


Social psychology has come a long way since its inception. From early studies on group behavior to exploring complex topics like prejudice and social influence, it has provided valuable insights into how individuals interact with one another. By understanding the development of social psychology, we can appreciate the contributions made by influential thinkers and researchers who shaped this fascinating field.