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The History of Social Psychology

Historical Figures and Milestones in Social Psychology

Wilhelm Wundt, 1832 – 1920

German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, recognized as the founding father of psychology.  Wundt’s theories made significant contributions during the early development of social psychology.  In 1862, Wundt identified two branches of psychology, physiological psychology and social psychology.  Wundt’s writing contributed to Germany’s annual bibliography of psychological literature that by the early 1900s now included the heading of social psychology.

Wundt’s work was groundbreaking whereas he separated psychology from philosophy and developed objective measurement and control and added structure to the analysis of the mind.

Gustave Le Bon, 1841 – 1931

Biographies that chronicle French social scientist Gustave Le Bon agree that Le Bon’s greatest contribution to social psychology is the researched conducted on crowds and the collective mind.  Le Bon describes this phenomenon as a “single being more primitive and suggestible than the individuals who comprise the group.”  Sigmund Freud discusses Le Bon’s research and theories in Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.  Le Bon’s acclaimed works primarily discuss the psychology of crowd behavior.  Le Bon wrote that while in a crowd, individual members subjected to a heightened state of emotion will succumb to the crowd mentality.  Le Bon did concur that crowds are capable of engaging in positive social actions.  The major common theme of Le Bon’s work is “people continue to maintain, or gain, control of government, civilization is moved in the direction of barbarism. (1931)

According to Speer, “Le Bon’s study has not been surpassed to this day.  I believe he did not need to observe the great demagogues from Lloyd George to Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler in order to fathom the mechanics of the mass psyche.” (1957)

Norman Triplett, 1861-1931

According to Strube, Triplett wrote what is recognized as the first published study of social psychology (2005).  Triplett’s famous experiment was on the social facilitation effect.  Triplett realized that cyclists tended to have faster cycling times while riding in groups.  Triplett went on to demonstrate the social facilitation effect in a controlled environment and discovered that children performed tasks faster in pairs versus performing alone.  Triplett had several theories and concluded that the physical presence of competition in the race liberates latent energy not ordinarily available. (1898).  Triplett’s results appeared in the American Journal of Psychology in 1898.

Floyd Henry Allport, 1890 – 1978

Floyd Allport the founding father of experimental social psychology.  Allport’s views became popular with the publication of Social Psychology in 1924.  Allport contended that social psychology limits itself to the study of the behavior and consciousness of individuals.  Allport believed that even though social psychology focuses on an individual reaction to group stimuli that social behavior is explained in terms of the principles of the individuals psychological functioning. (1924)  Brother, Gordon Willard Allport, also an established psychologist.

Kurt Lewin, 1890 – 1947

The biography of Kurt Lewin concludes Lewin is the leader of group dynamic research and is considered the founder of modern social psychology.  The equation, B=f(P,E), indicates that behavior is the combination of the person and environment, coupled with Lewins action research theory methodologies are used today to address social problems and group conflict.

Lewin’s field theory proposes that behavior is the result of the interactions of the individual and the environment.  Lewin’s theory of social psychology supports the theory that individual traits and the environment interact to cause behavior.  Lewin influenced today’s organizational psychology methodologies with experimental learning, leadership, action research, and group dynamics. (2010)

Stanley Milgram, 1933 – 1984

The greatest study in social obedience in psychology was conducted by Stanley Milgram in 1963.  Milgram’s experiment focused on the conflict between authoritative obedience and personal conscience.  Milgram examined defense justifications based on obedience, following the orders of superiors, for the acts of genocide committed by accused Nazi Officers during Nuremberg War Criminal trials of World War II.  Milgram began the experiments July 1961 after completion of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem.  Milgram wanted to answer “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?” (1974).  Milgram primary objective in these experiments was to investigate if Germans were particularly obedient to authority figures as this was the most common explanation given for the behavior of the Nazi party in World War II.

Social Psychology Milestones

 1862: Wilhelm Wundt proposes that psychology establish human or social sciences to study the higher mental processes involving language, social practices and customs, religion, and art.

1897: Norman Triplett publishes the first scientific study of social behavior, on a topic that was later called social facilitation.

1900:  Wundt publishes the first volume of Völkerpsychologie (folk or social psychology) which analyzes different methods of social thought and behaviors.

1924:  Floyd Allport publishes a social psychology text identifying the psychological branch of psychology.

1941–1945:  The U.S. government recruits social psychologists to assist in the war effort.

1954:  Social psychologists testify in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education.

1965: The Society of Experimental Social Psychology is founded.

1968: John Darley and Bibb Latané present the bystander effect.

1974: The Society for Personality and Social Psychology is founded.

1985:  The Casebook on Ethics and Standards for the Practice of Psychology in Organizations was published.

1986:  The Science and Practice of Industrial and Organizational Psychology were published.
Veronica Emilia Nuzzolo, MED


References:
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Lewin, Kurt, Biography Compiled by Greathouse, (2010) Julie, from Hothersall, David. (1995). History of Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. pp. 239-253.
Marrow, Alfred F. (1969). The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin. New York: Basic Books, Inc. Schultz, Duane P., and Sydney Ellen Schultz. (1994). Psychology and Work Today. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. pp. 204.
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Worchel, Stephen, and Wayne Shebilske. (1992). Psychology: Principles and Applications. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 604.
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Speer, Albert, Spandau The Secret Diaries, Collins, London 1976, p.309.
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Triplett, Norman, (1898), The Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competition, Indianna University, American Journal of Psychology, 9, 507-533.
Volkerpsychologie (social psychology), (10 vols, 1911-1920)
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