Understanding and managing social

PSYC 6245 PSYC 8247 CPSY 6245 Social Psychology The History of Social Psychology


Social psychology is the study of how a person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are influenced by the presence of

others. As you begin this course, step into history to see the people and the seminal research that has influenced the

development of this exciting field.

History of Psychology: Background

1821–1894: Hermann von Helmholtz, German natural scientist, conducts research on vision, hearing, and

perception—important studies focusing on individual behavior.

1875: William James establishes first known, informal laboratory in the United States and gives first U.S.

psychology course/lectures at Harvard University.

1883: G. Stanley Hall founds the first formal American psychological laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

History of Social Psychology in Particular

1895: Norman Triplett at Indiana University conducts what is understood as the first experiments within social

psychology, which studied factors affecting enhanced or decreased individual cyclist performance when in a

bicycle race.

1895: Gustave Le Bon, French sociologist, notes the potential role of suggestion with regard to group behavior

to denote how different individual behavior can become in the presence of others.

1913: John Watson publishes behaviorist-oriented research Psychology From the Standpoint of a Behaviorist.

1917: Kurt Lewin, while not originally a social psychologist, creates field theory, a theory based on physics but

that denotes how internal and external factors influence individual behavior, which, in turn, had a profound

influence on the field of social psychology.

1920s: Attitude research becomes understood as a central concept within social psychology.

1924: Floyd Allport builds upon work of Triplett and coins the term social facilitation while studying individual

performance during World War I.

1931: Gardner Murphy and Lois Murphy of Columbia University publish Experimental Social Psychology,

reviewing over 800 studies of social psychological functioning.

1932: Frederick Bartlett first discusses schemas in Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology.

1936: Muzafer Sherif studies the impact of group norms on individual performance.

1939: Kurt Lewin conducts seminal research on social climate and group behavior in 11-year-old boys. Boys were

in groups with one of three different leadership styles: democratic, autocratic, or laissez-faire and leadership

style related differentially to group norms.

1944: Fritz Heider publishes first organized construction of attribution theory, Social Perception and Phenomenal


1950: Leon Festinger conducts seminal work on affiliation and proximity in housing complexes and begins work

in the area of social comparison.

1951: Solomon Asch conducts seminal work in conformity.

1951: Situationism is formally defined in that social behavior is understood by a person’s response to his/her

social environment and not a function of individual personality. Situationism is reflected in Lewin’s equation

explaining psychological functioning:

B =ƒ (P, E): behavior is a function of the person and their environment.



1952: Leon Festinger publishes work on deindividuation with group behavior.

1957: Leon Festinger begins work on cognitive dissonance theory.

1963: Stanley Milgram begins seminal research on obedience to authority.

1965: Edward E. Jones and Keith Davis produce correspondent inference theory of attribution.

1967: Harold Kelley produces the covariation theory of attribution.

1968: John Darley and Bibb Latané conduct research on bystander intervention, spurred on by the famous 1964

murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City.

1971: Henri Tajfel conducts research on social identity theory, noting the role of both personal and social

identity as integral to sense of self.

1984: Shelley Taylor’s Social Cognition text is published, reflecting the burgeoning field of social cognition

research to include work in social inference, schemas, person memory, attention and consciousness, and social


1986: Richard Petty and John Cacioppo produce elaboration likelihood model (ELM), which distinguishes two

routes by which a message might persuade the recipient.

1987: Alice Eagly conducts work on gender and social roles and gender and leadership.

1989: Patricia Devine conducts work on the automatic nature of stereotyping.

1994: David Buss conducts work on evolutionary theory and human mating strategies.

1998: Applied Social Psychology is increasingly a focus within the field of Social Psychology.

2000: Shinobu Kitayama and Hazel Markus conduct work on independent versus interdependent cultures.




Fiske, S. T. (2010). Social beings: Core motives in social psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Hogg, M. A. & Cooper, J. (Eds.). (2007). The Sage handbook of social psychology (concise student ed.). Los Angeles, CA:


Sansone, C., Morf, C. C., & Panter, A. T. (Eds.). (2004). The Sage handbook of methods in social psychology. Thousand

Oaks, CA: Sage.

Steg, L., Buunk, A. P., & Rothengatter, T. (Eds.). (2008). Applied social psychology: Understanding and managing social

problems. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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