social psychology’s greatest hits?

I am not a social psychologist. So I was not prepared when someone asked me: what are the most important accomplishments of social psychology? I could point to something like framing theory, but that’s literally decades old. That’s my question for you: what are the biggest theoretical or empirical accomplishments of recent social psychology?

Written by fabiorojas

March 20, 2011 at 2:26 am

Posted in fabio, psychology, sociology

21 Responses

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  1. The heuristics and biases / social cognition / implicit bias research programs.



    March 20, 2011 at 2:40 am

  2. Social identity theory.

    Maybe it is decades-old, but it seems to be an active engine for current research.

    Liked by 1 person


    March 20, 2011 at 5:22 am

  3. […] original here: social psychology's greatest hits? « Tags: framing-theory, literally-decades, someone-asked, the-most « PreviousJapan: […]


  4. I’m with Randy on SIT and it’s kin intergroup contact. Still relevant and lots of stuff over the decades. The development of social personality and structure is pretty big approach for many sociological social psychologists. I guess what one considers to be important accomplishments of social psychology would be greatly influenced on their training in either sociology or psychology…



    March 20, 2011 at 11:51 am

  5. Restricting the answer to what gets called “Sociological Social Psychology” in American Sociology, in (subjective) order of importance:

    1) Ridgeway’s Status Construction Theory.
    2) Berger, Fisek, Norman, Wagner, et al’s theory of Status Characteristics and Expectation States.
    3) Lawler, Yoon, Thye, et al’s Relational Cohesion Theory.
    4) Heise, Smith-Lovin, McKinnon et al’s Affect Control Theory.
    5) Molm et al’s work on forms of exchange and affective outcomes.
    6) Burke, Stets, et al’s Identity Control Theory.



    March 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

  6. Unfortunately, no recent contributions to social psychological theory have come close to the importance of George Herbet Mead and Muzafer Sherif. Mead’s Symbolic Interactionist Theory and Sherif’s “The Psychology of Social Norms” and “Robbers Cave Experiments” are still unsurpassed in their significance, relevance and scope.

    The current emphasis on microtheories hinders the unification of the social psychological paragigm. A unified theory is a necessary condition for the advancement of this field and social science generally.

    If we are to find a unified, general theory of social behavior, it will be in the field of social psychology because it seeks to integrate both social and psychological elements as the basis of it’s explanation. Piecing together microtheories to form a consistent explanatory system has very little chance of success.


    Patrick Carney

    March 20, 2011 at 4:27 pm

  7. I use Elster’s More Nuts and Bolts as my reader in soc-psy.



    March 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm

  8. I can’t think of a snarky enough response to the above comment. help!



    March 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm

  9. Like Teppo’s link shows, the implicit association test has been huge in soc psych. For a more sociological-social-psychology focus, this is the same link but for SPQ: Like others pointed out, looks like mostly social identity theory stuff there.

    If we count 15 years as “recent”, automaticity of social behavior has been huge since Bargh, Chen and Burrows (1996). Stereotypes can directly prime behavior, without mediation of conscious awareness, and even on populations that are not the subject of the stereotype. (E.g., student subjects exposed to words that cue the stereotype of elderly people, like “Florida” and “Bingo”, then move slower than control subjects).

    In soc soc psych, there has been interesting research on social dilemmas, like the Simpson/Kuwabara papers on gender and collective action. Their finding is that the Prisoner’s Dilemma game actually contains two kinds of incentives: a fear incentive and a greed incentive. Men respond to one, while women to the other. By switching asymmetric payoffs, it’s possible to decide which gender will cooperate more.

    In political psych, there has been lots of fascinating work on framing. And yes, as Fabio points out, the basic theory here is hardly new–but the new findings are pretty interesting. This might be a bit of a strong statement, but I think the new findings show that framing matters way less than it was believed to: if subjects are asked to deliberate about the topic, or if they are led to believe that the framing comes from an unreliable source, framing effects go away. Also, a lot of other kinds of social influence overpower framing.

    In psych soc psych, positive psychology has been huge recently. The first finding that jumps to mind there is that feeling happy with your life in the long-term (i.e., life satisfaction) is quite different from short-term, moment-to-moment happiness. Raising a child increases the former while decreasing the latter.

    Even further into psych, Bayesian models of cognition have been on the rise after connectionist models having the lead for 2-3 decades. The idea that subjects bring in Bayesian priors into their behavior in experiments gives interesting reinterpretation of some classic heuristic & biases experiments. E.g., some studies that have been used to argue for human irrationality can also be interpreted as subjects (rationally) disregarding experimental instructions and utilizing their prior knowledge of how evidence tends to operate in the outside world.

    There is way more other intersting work out there, but I think I’ve used up my procrastination points for the day.


    Andrei Boutyline

    March 20, 2011 at 10:27 pm

  10. Would psychologists and sociologists give different answers to this question?


    David Hoopes

    March 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm

  11. @David: I agree. These should be very different lists. Any psychologists out there?



    March 21, 2011 at 7:23 pm

  12. David – yes, they’re very different. I had to laugh when a psychology post doc was completely surprised when I mentioned to him that sociology had our own version of social psychology. After five years of training in a prestigious psychology program, he’d never heard of it.


    brayden king

    March 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm

  13. @Brayden: Here’s a pattern – nobody in adjacent disciplines knows anything about sociologists who work on the boundary. Psychologists don’t read social psychology, economists don’t read economic sociology, historians don’t read much historical sociology.



    March 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm

  14. […] asked about the latest and greatest in social psychology.  Here’s Robb Willer’s UC Berkeley intro to social psychology class, Sociology […]


  15. Speaking as someone almost but not quite a social psychologist (long boring story) I can pretty confidently say that the various scholars mentioned by Omar get nary a mention in mainstream psychological social psychology. Randomly checking Susan Fiske’s “Social Beings” I find two references to Ridgeway, two to Berger et al, and none to Molm, Lawler, Burke or Heise.

    As pointed out above, a lot of work in social psychology of late has focused on automatic and implicit drivers of social behaviour (Bargh et al, plus the Greenwald et al stuff on implicit attitudes). Jost’s system justification theory, and its parent-competitor social dominance theory are both big, and both ripe for critique by sociologists.

    More and more I find that what used to be called social psychology is, at least in the UK, referred to as “social cognition”.


    C Solberg

    March 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm

  16. Thanks for the responses. I find that the sociology and psychology approaches social psychology are very different. Cognition is similar. There is almost no overlap between sociological approaches to cognition and the rest of cognitive science.


    David Hoopes

    March 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm

  17. @sd: What do you mean by: “I can’t think of a snarky enough response to the above comment. help!”

    Is “more nuts and bolts” not a good suggestion?



    March 22, 2011 at 6:51 pm

  18. Also speaking as someone who was almost a (psychological) social psychologist, I can confirm that teppo’s JPSP links are much, much more representative of current research programs in social psychology than anything Omar listed. System justification and social dominance orientation, attitude-behavior links and formation, both implicit and explicit, an increased focus on work in cognitive neuroscience, and dual/triple process theories are dominant, I would say.



    March 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm

  19. Trey, I’m sure that you are a careful reader, so I’m sure that you noticed that I said *restricting my answer to what gets called sociological social psychology* So in saying that what gets published in JPSP (which includes experiments that purport to show the existence of time-reversed causation), you seem to be presuming that psychological social psychology is the “real” social psychology. The reality is that there are two social psychologies and that anybody who calls him or herself a sociologist should be fairly familiar with the sociological kind; familiarity with the psychological kind is desirable but not required.



    March 22, 2011 at 10:44 pm

  20. […] social psychology’s greatest hits? ( […]


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