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Historical Influences Of Social Psychology, Research, And Theory

Social psychology is a field that utilizes scientific methods to comprehend and explain how thought, behavior and feeling of human beings is directly or indirectly influenced or affected by the actual or implied presence or absence of other human beings in a society. It’s different from other disciplines as it relies on actual observations and subjective interpretation and this employs scientific and empirical studies of the social phenomena while focusing on situations rather than individuals. Unlike sociology which focuses on institutions and culture, social psychology focuses on situational variables that affect social behavior.

Social psychology began at the beginning of the 20th century in the United States of America in the form of experiments by psychologists for example the ‘Gestalt Psychology’ by the Nazi regime which was a theory of mind and brain stating that its holistic, parallel and analog in with self organizing tendencies. During the World War II, the US used propaganda and persuasion to help in the recruit of young men in the army and after the war the social psychologists turned their attention to social problems like racial discriminations to gender issues which were rife in the society. Due to the experiments done in the labs by psychologists a crisis arose due to increased questions on the ethical consideration of this and if it was actually yielding the required results in comparison to the negative effects of the experiments.

However in the late 70s and 80s is when social psychology actually matured in both theory and practical methods that were being applied in various situations. This has led to emergence of careful ethical standards that are widely applied in the discipline today. And even though earlier on the discipline was just ‘superficial and crude’, now other topics of study have emerged like cognitive dissonance; which is the uncomfortable feeling developed due to conflicting ideology and this proposes that people need  a common idea to have a motivational drive in achieving certain’ bystander intervention and aggression; where people of the same society develop a behavior towards each other that can result in harm or pain for example in animals when two male lions fight for a territory. And now modern social psychology has many study phenomena, perhaps the most advanced in recent times is the self concept; which is the multi-dimension view of self from age, sexuality, gender and other aspects either academic or social which in the long run helps most persons understanding of his or her persona for example I excel in a certain discipline hence will consider myself very good in that resulting in confidence when dealing with topics of the same.

There are many topics that psychologists research in but mainly it’s based on social influence, perception and interactions. Some of the major areas include social cognition, attitudes and attitudes change, violence and aggression and self and social identity. Others include group behavior, social influence and prosocial behavior. Social cognition is the processing, storing and application of social information by an individual; this is closely related to cognitive psychology which is a study of schemas or our general ideas of the world in simple terms. everything we see.                                                                                                                       

In attitudes and attitude change, social psychologists try to study how individuals develop attitudes and how they are changed (Richard et al, 2003). In violence and aggression they try to find why people may act in an aggressive or violent manner in certain situations and what are the circumstances which can cause this whether competition or survival instincts but maybe just a result of the same old conflict.

 How we perceive ourselves and our identity is another important aspect of social psychology, here they are interested in how people are affected by the inner feelings and aspects and how it affects our outer presentation. Self belief, self awareness and expression and how some of these factors affect our social experience. Prosocial  behavior is a situation where psychologists do a study or try to determine why people sometimes will either like or love others by treating them well while in other situations behave in non friendly or dislike others and whether its has anything to with interpersonal association or not.

Most of what we know today about human behavior and thought is credit to psychologists, whom have spent a great deal of time in studying various theories which have resulted in some of them being less considered. But despite this all have greatly assisted in study.  Others include love which has three main components namely intimacy, caring and attachment. Attachment is the physical care need to receive approval; caring includes other person’s value and happiness while intimacy is the sharing of desires and thoughts. The bystander effect reflects the most people in our society today where no one will be willing to assist incase of an emergency but prefer to be spectators without offering assistance (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996).

There are two main factors that lead to this bystander effect one is other people generate a diffusion of responsibility this is in that other observers feel that other people should do something to assist while in the real sense no one is doing anything resulting to a lack of action entirely. The second is the need to behave in a socially and correct in terms of acceptability in the society (Cherry, 2010).

Conformity is another theory where people tend to do or follow the silent or unwritten rules in the society without being told by anyone due to the need of wanting to be like other people in the society or blend in or want to conform.

 Leadership theory is among the earlier theories in this discipline started in the 20th century, and in this various leadership styles surfaced like great man; which creates a heroic image for leaders hence making the subjects look up to him, trait; where just because you come from a certain blood line or family, this grants you automatic status or qualities example son of a king has leadership qualities, contingency; this is one that states no leader or leadership skills is ideal but it depends with the people to be led and other conditions on the ground. Situational; this proposes the kind of leader ideal depending in the variables in the area while participative theory is where a leader takes into account the input put forward by the subjects to determine the best approach to be taken (Cartwright, 1979). The obedience theory is another which came up through a series of experiments to determine how willing and far a person can go in following instructions in relation to his or her personal beliefs to determine the degree of loyalty or obedience the individual has or can develop.

All put in consideration all the studies done up to date irrespective from the inhuman experiments of the Nazi to the today more moral and ethical practices has brought about all the significant developments in social psychology that has helped in understanding the human behavior and other disciplines.


Cherry, K. (2010). What Is Social Psychology? Retrieved 7, Oct. 2010 from

Richard, F. D et al. (2003). One hundred years of social psychology quantitatively described. Review of General Psychology, 7 (3): 331-336

Cartwright, D. (1979). Contemporary Social Psychology in Historical Perspective. Social Psychology Quarterly, 42 (1): 82-93

Kluger, A . and DeNisi, A. (1996). Effects of feedback intervention on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory.  Psychological Bulletin, 119(2): 254-284

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