History of Social Psychology

(Last Updated On: June 25, 2018)

The remote roots of social psychology date back to antiquity. The social philosophies and ethical theories of philosophers (such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) form the backdrops upon which medieval, modern and contemporary philosophers (such as St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant and Edmund Husserl) anchored their philosophical orientations which aim at evaluating the capacity of human consciousness to establish ethical and social norms for organizing and re-organizing human conduct within society. Generally, the concern of philosophers with psychology is to critically study the problem of “human nature” and also to show how man can use his “mental will or power” to make improvements upon his conduct or behavior so that society at large can benefit. Other remote sources include culture and religious scriptures such as the Christian Bible, Muslim Koran, Yoruba Ifa and a host of others. The scientific impetus into social psychology is a recent event and it all started due to the successes recorded in biology. Incidentally, biology most recently, neurology constitutes the closest sources of contemporary social psychology.

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As an academic discipline social psychology is relatively young. It could be said to have started at the 19th Century A. D. As a matter of fact: “The study as we know it is very much the product of the last 100 years. Drawing to some degree on older studies of mass hysteria, crowd behavior, panic phenomena and the supposed distinctive dispositions of the different social classes, social psychology developed to a large degree out of McDougall’s theory of instincts, Mead’s pioneering work on role-playing and the sympathetic studies of the Freudians, Erich Fromm and Karen Homey on the shaping importance of social institutions” .

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The first two books on social psychology entitled: An introduction to Social Psychology and Social Psychology, written by William McDougall and E. A. Ross respectively, appeared in the year 1908. There afterwards, in the attempt to ascertain which discipline is truly the parent root of social psychology, this field of study became a battle ground between sociologists and psychologists. From sociologists angle came the “Group Mind” theory which emphasizes on how the individual develops among the group in the society. From the psychologists side come the doctrine of “instincts” which deals with the study of human instincts in relation to situation as war, love-making, selection of occupation, criminal acts, mother love, and self-preservation and so on. It was amidst these controversies that Sigmund Freud (1865-1939) came up with his theory of “psychoanalysis” which seems to bridge the gap between sociologists and psychologists. No doubt, Freud’s theory emphasizes more of innate tendencies (i.e. as in the instincts) of the individual. It, nevertheless, also shows the influence of other members of the society on the child or individual in the development of one’s personality. There came the “behaviouristic” approach in the 1920s. Compared to Freud’s psychoanalysis, behaviourism stresses the use of scientific paradigms in the analysis of human behavior.

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