Evaluation of social psychology as a science

Characteristics of social behavior

Social psychology is studying a wide range of complex social behavior regarding, e.g., aggression, attitudes, attribution, gender roles, group processes, health and helping behavior, intergroup relations, leadership and motivation, personality, relationships, and social influences (Richard, Bond, and Stokes-Zoota, 2003), just to name a few. It is key that “Humans are a cultural species,” as Heine and Norenzayan (2006) aptly put it.

Social Psychology as a science

According to Milgram and From (2012), a scientific theory in (social) psychology can be proven by carrying out a suitable experiment. Measurements of mental processes are required to explain why a certain behavior happens (Baumeister, Vohs, and Funder, 2007). Research methods do not only consist of quantitative, but also qualitative approaches, such as gathering detailed stories or reports of experiences from people. Often theories are difficult to reconstruct because certain variables that may have changed over time are unknown regarding their relevance to the theory. More replication work as a central issue of empirical science needs to be done to respond to the current crisis of confidence in social psychology as mentioned by Brian and David (2015).

Feasibility considerations

Because social psychology is so situational, there are many variables to control. Another challenge is to get sufficient sample sizes when correlations are searched. When relying on introspection to analyze reasons for observed behavior, people “often mislead themselves” (Baumeister, Vohs, and Funder, 2007, p. 397). When performing experiments, ethical principles require the researchers to enable participants’ informed consent, to be truthful, to protect participants from harm and discomfort, to maintain confidentiality, and to debrief participants (Myers and Twenge, 2013).

Example scientific achievement

The following research shall serve as an illustration of a systematic study of a psychological tendency over time and compare different cultural settings. The research was based on data from all over Japan using a large sample and was collected twice over time; therein lays the data and methodological strength of the analysis.

Ogihara, Uchida, and Kusumi (2016) found that elementary school pupils’ self-esteem decreased between 1999 and 2006 and they confirmed that from early school age to adults for both genders, people’s evaluations of the own self became more negative over time. This may have significant impacts on the understanding of how cultural changes and “socio-economic environment influence human psychology and behavior” (Ogihara, Uchida, and Kusumi, 2016, p.1). The fact that a (maybe too rapid) change to more individualistic culture in Japan did not lead to increased self-esteem as is the case in the United States suggests possible difficulties of Japan’s society in adapting to it (Ogihara, Uchida, and Kusumi, 2016).

Outlook

Social psychology (alone) may not be suitable to explain any social phenomenon. Social sciences, as Van Leeuwen (2013) argues, fail to proof how men and woman significantly and generally would consistently show complementary behavior. Charles (2011) is looking at the possibility of ecological psychology to offer social psychology a solution for the problem of the ‘invisible mind’ respectively the perception of intentions in social situations. It may not yet be decided whether the ability to study the direct perception of others minds has to be rejected definitively or not.

References:

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Funder, D. C. (2007). Psychology as the science of self-reports and finger movements: Whatever happened to actual behavior? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 396–403.

Brian D., E., & David, e. (2015). Replication, falsification, and the crisis of confidence in social psychology. Frontiers In Psychology, Vol 6 (2015), doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00621/full

Charles, E. P. (2011). Ecological psychology and social psychology: it is Holt, or nothing!. Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science, 45(1), 132–153. doi:10.1007/s12124–010–9125–8

Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2006). Toward a psychological science for a cultural species. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(3), 251–269.

Milgram, S., & From, H. (2012). Invitation to social psychology. [streaming video]. Alexandria, VA : Alexander Street Press, [2012].

Myers, D. G., & Twenge, J. M. (2013). Social psychology (11th ed.) . New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Ogihara, Y. )., Uchida, Y. )., & Kusumi, T. ). (2016). Losing Confidence Over Time: Temporal Changes in Self-Esteem Among Older Children and Early Adolescents in Japan, 1999–2006. SAGE Open, 6(3), doi:10.1177/2158244016666606

Richard, F. D., Bond, C. F., Jr., & Stokes–Zoota, J. J. (2003). One hundred years of social psychology quantitatively described. Review of General Psychology, 7(4), 331–336.

VAN LEEUWEN, M. S. (2013). Social Science Studies Cannot Define Gender Differences. Priscilla Papers, 27(2), 12–19.

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