Brief History of Social Psychology

Social psychology is the product of Psychology and other social sciences. Social philosophers, pioneer anthropologists, British evolutionists and early sociologists gave early contribution to from a concrete discipline of Social Psychology.

Social Philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Montesquieu, Hobbes, Locke etc discussed about human nature, customs, instincts & heredity, impulses, and social relations.

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Anthropologists Herman Steinthal & Mortiz Lazarus, Started a journal called Folk psychology (1860), to discovering  Group minds’ and folk souls’, the mental processes of primitive people by studying their language, mythology, religion, literature and art ‘, which inspired William Wundt.

British Evolutionists Charles Darwin made a huge contribution to social science with ‘the theory of evolution’ which changed the course of scientific thinking. Spencer insist that life is a process of continual adjustment of internal to external relations (society). He foresaw a how the individual becomes an organic part of a group and how the group becomes an organic unity.

Early Sociologists, Emile Durkheim‘s ‘collective representations’ stressed the significance of group experiences.

Auguste Comte laid foundation for Social Psychology by arguing that society and social issues should be studied in the same scientific manner as natural science. He stated that the human mind can develop only through society, the individual must be considered always in a social setting.


  • 1895, Gustav LeBon proposed a ‘theory of crowd behaviour’, arguing that people behave badly in groups because they are
    controlled by a crowd mind. It later pay the way for studies on social influence and aggression.
  • 1897, Norman Triplett probably the first social psychology experiment, when he systematically compared children who completed a task alone or in the presence of others. He found that performing in the presence of others led children to complete the task more quickly because it aroused a competitive instinct.
  • 1908,  William McDougall wrote ‘An Introduction to Social Psychology’- focused on social behaviour in biology, role of instincts which he defined as inherited or innate dispositional characteristics, primary emotions (for example fear, anger, curiosity and tenderness) . American sociologist Edward Ross wrote ‘Social Psychology’  focusing on more complex social phenomena such as crowd behaviour, culture, conformity, and conflict.
  • LaPierre  (1934), in an investigation of behaviour and attitudes of American hotel owners towards a Chinese couple. He found that people’s attitudes and behaviour do not always correspond with one another.
  • In 1935, Sherif experimentally demonstrated the role of social norms in influencing people’s behaviour when they are in the presence of others.
  • In 1940, Hovland and Sears tested a theory that explained why people behaved aggressively, based on how people take out their frustrations about their lives on a scapegoat.
  • Gordon Allport’s classic  text, ‘The Nature of Prejudice’ (1954), he proposed the ‘contact hypothesis’, the idea that bringing
    different groups together would reduce prejudice, although critically, only under certain conditions.
  • A series of classic studies were conducted by Sherif and colleagues looking at group dynamics at a summer camp for boys. they Found out two of the key conditions for intergroup contact to reduce prejudice – cooperation & common goals – as well as providing the basis for a classic theory of intergroup conflict: Realistic group conflict theory.
  • Solomon Asch (1956) experimentally investigated the impact of group members on the individual while, in one of the
    most famous social psychology experiments,
  • Milgram (1963) explored why people follow orders, even where those orders involve causing harm to other
    people. At around the same time,
  • Adorno and colleagues (1950) considered whether people with a certain type of personality were more likely to behave
    with prejudice towards others, in their research on the authoritarian personality.

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References for History of Social Psychology

Baron, R.A and Donn Bryne (2006) Social Psychology, Prentice Hall of India (10th Edition), New Delhi.
Crisp, R.J and Rhiannon N.Turner, Essential Social Psychology, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

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