An Outline of Social Psychology


Jacob Robert Kantor

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

Social psychology is above all others the romantic science. The youngest in years and yet the most enveloped in legend. Like a true hero of romance it has inflamed the imagination of all humanistic scholars. Not only is it cultivated by sociologists and psychologists, but its acquaintance is extensively sought by anthropologists, economists, and political scientists also.

How can we explain this assiduous pursuit of social psychology? The answer no doubt lies in the fabulous tales rumor whispers of its powers and performances. Social psychology it is believed can explain the formation of society. It understands the forces directing the destinies of history and politics. It can offer us the secrets of thought and language and the mysteries of the artistic life.

Of one thing we are certain, social psychology was born of great expectations. Those who attended at its birth foretold that it would be mighty and perform great deeds. When this science first glimpsed the dawn it was predicted that social psychology would fashion the key with which to unlock all the secret chambers of the humanistic sciences. The intricate problems concerning the nature of language, custom, morals, religion, and law were to be speedily solved by its great skill. That these promises were rudely dashed rather added to, than detracted from, its epic character.

So romantic, indeed, is social psychology that its very identity is an enigma. Is it a branch of sociology or psychology? Many believe that what masquerades as politics and economics is really social psychology. Perhaps the

(vi) mystery here is occasioned by the fact that, like so many romantic heroes, social psychology bears upon its escutcheon the baton sinister. By whom was it sired? By philosophy, philology, anthropology, or psychology? All of these and others graced the scene of its early development.

Thus are set the problems for the present book.

All those who are interested in our subject and believe it is important will agree that we ought to know of what it really treats. Romance in science is not so desirable as information and critical thinking.

Perhaps social psychology is one of those borderline subjects which belong neither to psychology nor sociology exclusively, but to both disciplines at once. Whatever type of study it is, it ought to have a distinctive subject-matter. It is nothing less than a misfortune that the materials of so many social psychological treatises consist of mixtures of a little physiology, sociology, psychology, and anthropology in various proportions. When, as frequently happens, these ingredients are not of a satisfactory quality, misfortune turns into calamity.

As students of psychology, therefore, we deem it our task to divide off quite clearly psychological facts from the data of the other branches of the social sciences. In this work, accordingly, we attempt to keep distinct the facts of human behavior from the data of sociology, politics, anthropology, and economics with which they are all too frequently confused.

It is our aim likewise to distinguish social psychological happenings from the materials of general psychology. If social psychology is to justify its existence as a separate discipline it must deal with a distinct form of data. It is only after we have thus isolated cultural psychological events that we can study them effectively. The central task of the present volume is to present as satisfactory a statement as possible of the psychological facts of social psychology.

But howsoever successfully we isolate and describe social

(vii) psychological facts, we know full well that they do not thus exist alone. For after all they are only aspects of larger humanistic phenomena; that is, they are invariably set in a matrix of humanistic events. Accordingly we have devoted considerable space to the discussion of anthropic, sociological, general psychological, as well as biological phenomena, insofar as these have a bearing upon the facts of social psychology. This procedure not only enables us to distinguish the various happenings but also to take account of their relations.

Again, we have taken special pains to suggest the extreme complexity of human occurrences. No adequate knowledge of social data is possible if we regard any fact, say a sociological circumstance, as the simple result of another fact, for example a psychological happening. On the contrary, there are always many mutually influencing events whenever some human situation is involved. Sociological facts no doubt have their effects upon psychological ones, but the converse is equally true.

The writer is convinced that much of the confusion that pervades social psychology today is owing to the inadequacy of traditional psychology. As long as psychological phenomena are treated as invisible states or forces there really could be no science of psychology, nor could we distinguish the latter from any other discipline. The present work is based, therefore, upon an organismic foundation, the conception, namely, that psychological phenomena constitute interactions of persons with stimuli objects. Since social reactions consist of interactions with institutional stimuli we characterize the subject-matter of the present volume as institutional social psychology.

J. R. K.
February, 1928.


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2