Crisis in Social Psychology: Some Remarks Towards Breaking Through the Crisis

Muzafer Sherif
The Pennsylvania State University


I.   The Wheat vs. Chaff Ratio in the Sky— Rocketing Volume of Research and Publication
II.  Two Illustrative Areas of Thriving Research: Small Group Research and Attitude-Attitude Change Research
III. The Increasing Hue and Cry Over the Crisis
A.  Diversity of proposals reveal as much about the proposers as what they propose.
IV. Some Remarks Toward Breaking Through the Crisis
V.  The Roots of Crisis in Social Disciplines are Deep and Wide

I. The Wheat vs. Chaff Ratio in the Sky-Rocketing Volume of Research and Publication

Social psychology in this country is going through an ironic and unsettling state in its development. Ironic and unsettling, because on the surface it is thriving in a sky-rocketing boom of output in research and publication and, at the same time, the ratio of chaff that is piling up is enormous relative to the scanty yield in substance that will survive. This contradictory state of things is at the bottom of both the crisis and the unsettling malaise it arouses. It is recognized by increasing numbers among our ranks including those who have the opportunity to view them from the high professional vantage points of our discipline (e.g., Triandis, 1975; Smith, 1972, 1976).

The concentration of this paper is on remarks towards breaking through the prevailing crisis. But there are those among us who still go about their work in the spirit of "business as usual" and say "so what is the fuss about— this crisis business— let us get down to brass tacks." Therefore, it becomes necessary to give at least a summary of documentation presented in sufficient details elsewhere (Sherif, 1968, 1970; Sherif 6 Sherif, 1969).

II. Two Illustrative Areas of Thriving Research: Small Group Research and Attitude-Attitude Change Research

In the area of small group research. The tremendous size of research in the small group area is well reflected in Paul Hare's compilations of bibliographies. Hare's first bibliography in collaboration with Fred Strodtbeck appeared in Sociometry in 1954 and it was updated through July 1954 (Hare, Borgatta, S Bales, editors, Small Groups, 1955) listing 584 items. Hare's compilation covering the ten-year period between 1959-1969 appeared in Sociometry for March 1972 listing 2021 items, an increase of almost four times during that ten-year period as compared to the listing for all previous decades up to 1954.

Yet what is the yield of substance established in the way of the social psychology of small groups in terms of valid generalizations and principles by the mid-seventies, even after the additional hundreds of research items since 1969? In appearance, this huge harvest looks impressive especially in technical surface, in the announced levels of significance of the findings. Yet when we start to separate golden kernels

(369) from the chaff to store them for the future, it is quite a different story. It does not add up to much. It is fragmented, too incoherent to fit together as a whole. Various evaluators among us commented on the defectiveness of the yield in substance and irrelevance of a considerable portion of it. Thus in one of the more extensive surveys of the small group studies, McGrath and Altman (1966) state "the small group field is so segmented— in the form of idiosyncratic variables, tasks, and measures peculiar to the individual investigators— that no one has a common base from which to argue" (p. 80). These authors put the blame for the scanty yield in golden kernels on the entrepreneurial nature of the producers. In the huge pile, "the staleness does not have to do with the cleverness of experimental procedures, for they are often ingenious." This can only mean that the choice of research methods and techniques is not an independent issue in regard to their appropriateness to the problems to be researched.

The degeneration of small group research mainly in terms of interpersonal attractions and preferences, at the expense of structural properties of groups (in spite of still lingering lip service to structural properties) is deplored by various persons in our ranks. One of the concerned voices raised against this reductionism is Ivan Steiner— senior editor of Current Studies in Social Psychology. In 1973, Steiner posed the overdue question, "What happened to the group in social psychology" in the first annual Katz-Newcomb Lecture which he delivered at the University of Michigan (Steiner, 1974). In his words "By the 1960's social psychology had become much more individualistic. Interest in the group had waned and research was generally on intra-individual events or processes that mediate responses to social situations" (p. 94). He went on to say "By the late 50's social psychology had turned inward. It had largely renounced or postponed its concern for larger social systems, and had centered its attention on internal states and processes: dissonance, attitudes, attributions. Whatever happened to the group, and why?" (p. 98).

Good question: Whatever happened, especially after the big words about their structural properties? Especially in the hands of psychologically trained social psychologists, the study of groups suffered reductionism, notwithstanding continuing full-scale lip service to their structural properties at the sociological level; that is, properties of norm pattern and functional status and role system which are essential hallmarks of any group any place. Even in some influential quarters the study of groups was reduced to interpersonal attractions and preferences here and now. And ahistoricalism reigned supreme with the contention that whatever factors enter as factors from the past, they are relevant for consideration only in so far as they are operative in the living present. This ahistorical qualification is unnecessary. Situationally relevant aspects of a group's normative pattern and status-role system are ever present in every episode of interaction of members. The definition of a group as a unit with boundaries consisting of individuals in a state of interdependence stretched research in undifferentiated directions in that it lacks the specification of the terms of interdependence. It needs specification of those terms. The specification of the terms of interdependence in terms of normative or value patterns and functional role-status patterns provides the criteria to specify the particular dimensions and their limits within which particular members can be categorized and studied in intensive depth.

(370) One of our colleagues more seriously concerned with the present unsettling state of group research is Albert Pepitone of the University of Pennsylvania (1976). Pepitone opens his discussion by citing a variety of others also expressing malaise and differing in their solutions. Then he proceeds to offer his own. In his words, "major theories of contemporary social psychology (e.g., game theory, dissonance, and similar models, equity theory, attitude theories, and theories of aggression) refer essentially to dynamic processes that operate within the individual independently of others in the social environment" (p. 651). Whereas in the real world and laboratory much of social behavior, that is, behavior that does really count for the humans (like upholding pro or con attitudes towards others or ourselves, engaging in a political activity) is normative and derived from their group and other sociocultural collectives. From this analysis, Pepitone, moves on to make a strong plea for orienting social psychology in the directions that are primarily normative in substance and comparative in methods. By comparative in method, Pepitone means a discipline that is in continuous traffic with social sciences as well as natural sciences in its explorations. Perhaps what Pepitone proposes may go at least some ways in getting out of the self-contained rut of reductionism that especially the psychological social psychologists have carried out for the discipline. Currently other voices are being raised against the study of groups in actual practice (if not in profuse lip service to the contrary). Such voices speak primarily in terms of interpersonal attractions and preferences, stripped from their easily demonstrable determinants rooted in the structural properties (that is, normative value pattern, and functional role or status pattern) of the groups of these very individuals. Especially pertinent in this vein is the Escovar-Sims critique of the current definition of a decisive group property (cohesiveness-solidarity) on the grounds of its operational use primarily in terms of interpersonal attractions at the expense of the structural properties (Escovar & Sims, 1975).

Reigning confusion in the area of attitude and attitude change. In the volume of research and publication, the area of attitude and attitude change is second to none. And for a valid reason: attitudes that people stand for in politics, in many matters, in religion etc., and the preservation and change of these attitudes are vital matters to them especially in a world in rapid rate of transformation. Yet what is the yield in the way of established principles especially in regard to attitude change? For the change aspect is the crucial test for any theory in the attitude field: the importance of change, especially followed through behavioral consequences cannot be covered under scholaristic jargon.

But if we go over books surveying multitudes of research reports on attitude change, what solidly established principles can we end up with unless we are already a disciple of some school or susceptible to be one because of the impact of the particular atmosphere, and day in day out training in it? Not much is needed to point to the scanty yield in spite of tremendously thriving output.

A ticklish tact stated by Carl Hovland in his Scientific Contribution Award address (1959) and reported since then in almost all surveys of attitude change or resistance to change in response to a discrepant message is a good case for the sociology of knowledge. The repeatedly confirmed fact is that somehow the laboratory research produces change while research under more natural field conditions is more stingy in this respect. This may not be a matter to lightly say "So what? I stick by the laboratory, the natural field conditions are messy anyway." When you learn a further

371) bit of information on the topic, you may realize that something more serious is at stake. And it is nothing less than the criterion of validity. For it is also reported by various others that the issues that are used in the laboratory, on the whole, are of less consequence to the proverbial "college sophomores" than issues used in the field, like a referendum on an issue of concern such as a political issue, draft issue or further tuition hike issues.

Partial summing up. Even from this quick glance at the state of two major areas of research, a rather clear but somewhat disturbing picture stands out; piles and piles of output in research and publication, accelerated almost daily by the "publish or perish" policy of academia. In brief, the ratio of golden kernels to be saved to the huge quantity of chaff is only a minute fraction. Yet this should not be a cause of pessimism or cynicism— if we can only extract the correct signals from the precious few studies in the social sciences and cease to be merely dazzled copy cats at the feet of established physical sciences, on the whole uncritically going through the motions but not substance of science. Later I shall refer to a few of the signals which we will do well to derive from the precious few works like Milgram's imaginative research on conformity (1963), which derives its valid quality both from its embeddedness in historical reality and its clean cut simple instrumentation that does not degenerate into the hollow front of technical embellishments and devious and cute cleverness in design. Perhaps some of the effective steps towards getting to solid ground from the present impasse in our self-contained castles will owe much to what may be aptly referred to as corrective developments of which the following are representative: (a) corrective developments from within experimental psychology: Rosenthal type of demonstration of the hitherto taken for granted impact of researcher himself on both the design direction, slant and instrumentation phase of research (1966); the abundant demonstration of unaccounted for factors in research situations (in laboratory and the field-interview, polling, questionnaire, etc.) associated with the names of Martin Orne (1962), Henry Riecken (1962); and Allen Edwards' demonstration (1957) of the impact of the "social desirability" factor in attitude research. This line of work will make us more responsive to overcoming our current unbelievably myopic and naive neglect of independent variables in designing and reporting experiments which put such meticulous emphasis on statistical treatment of data obtained, and at the same time, such gross neglect of some of the weighty independent variables in the data collection phase. (b) Corrective developments contributing to the unforgivably ethnocentric and parochial conception of the human beings' stimulus surroundings as represented by emerging new professional circles: Cultural psychology (Triandis, 1975), environmental or ecological psychology (e.g., Proshansky, et al., 1969, 1974; Altman, 1975; Bronfenbrenner, 1976). Such broadening and deepening correctives and developments will go a long way to emancipate social psychology from its present ethnocentric, even parochial confinements towards making it a truly representative discipline of humans in general. Most of the textbooks (especially from psychological social psychologists) should be more appropriately called American social psychology, with further specification "in the 30's or 60's or 70's."

III. The Increasing Hue and Cry Over the Crisis

A special section here on the ever increasing voices about the crisis in social science (not only in social psychology) is not prompted by a masochistic urge to indulge in counterproductive breast beating. Nor is

372) it included here as an attention getting device. There is the danger of further accumulation of a whole big crop of crisis literature because it is attention getting; it is likely to insure its author handsome professional mileage. Therefore, publishing one or two papers on the topic is more effective in maximizing one's effort.

The discrepancy or gap between the huge quantity of output in chaff versus only a small worth-preserving product of substance is so great that it certainly is arousing a sense of insecurity as to our bearings, loss of direction as to where we are headed for and, hence, arousal of inner conflict (or dissonance if you prefer to hear it in a fashionable auditory metaphor). A glance at the increasingly large pile of crisis literature will give us a few sure leads as to the causes of crisis, the significance of the crisis, and its role in hardening of partisan lines in the ethnocentric faction-ridden decisions in our self-contained castles, because of the absence of a shared dependable paradigm that we can all stand on— across divisions in psychology and across disciplines in social sciences. Hence this special section on the thriving crisis literature.

A compilation of rapidly piling up crisis literature is a desirable project. It will be an interesting study reflecting an assorted variety of divisions, convergencies, and emerging concerns in a world in the process of chaotic transformations. What is chosen here is highly selective— the items were chosen because they are Conducive to make a point or two related to Section IV— that is my remarks and suggestions about breaking through the crisis.

Clyde Hendrick, the Editor of PSPB, rendered a positive service by having over a dozen colleagues air their views on the crisis and the way out of it. The views presented reflect compatible and conflicting positions on the issues— including positions on scientific versus historical, environmental versus social psychologies, field versus experimental research, "grand theory" versus smaller range operational theories versus complacent "we are doing pretty well, business as usual" position partisans. (For the last trichotomy above see the summary report by Strickland, et al., 1976 of a symposium in a Conference on Research Priorities and Paradigms in Toronto, 1974, chaired by Henri Tajfel, Bristol University).

Participants of the articles in PSPB included Robert Helmreich (Spring, 1976), Y. Epstein, D. Stokols, H. Pronshansky, I. Altman, M. Mania, K. Gergen, B. Schlenker, A. Greenwald, C. Hendrick, W. Thorngate, R. Harris, P. Secord, M. B. Smith, D. Forsyth, S. Baumgardner, B. Earn, and R. Kroger (Fall, 1976). Relatively few of the contributors raise issues on basic philosophic orientations or assumptions; the majority are, explicitly or implicitly, still in the grooves of a long ingrained logical positivist conception of science. This still dominant and still fashionable philosophy in many circles in Western science favors neatly worded formal operational definitions of concepts; a technocratic arrangement of social relations "freed" from concerns over human values in a post-industrial society; a reductionistic conception of unity of sciences in the image of physical science instead of nonreductionistic social science at its own level and units of analysis (Sarup, 1975).

Such basic assumptions about social science in general, and social psychology in particular are at the very source of the basic models concerning the nature of the social system and the nature and functioning of the human psychological system. The predictions of dissonance theory on attitude change or resistance to change follow from a physicalistic notion of the

(373) human psychological system as reflected in its very distinctive terminology (e.g., forces, valences, resultant of forces.). What social psychologists do or do not do about the prevailing crisis, what solutions and measures they come out with and apply are likely to be determined by their positions and commitments on these basic questions. This is the central theme of the present paper; the suggestions to follow concerning how to overcome the present crisis; pragmatic steps to be cited are all auxiliaries to this central theme.

A. Diversity of proposals reveal as much about the proposers as what they propose. In respect to its lack of definite structure, coherence, unsettledness, lack of definite direction, and activities shooting in all directions, the crisis situation we are in currently is not conceptually so different from other crisis situations in these respects. The more chaotic the components in the mess in the situation, the greater the number available to the respondent confronting it. This is reflected too in the textbooks claiming to be Social Psychology of the 60's and 70's. It is likely to be more so in the social psychologies of the eighties if the chaff to golden kernel yield ratio continues to further increase. Of course, here I am excepting from this characterization books written by the stanch partisans of the self-contained castles who are committed to the proposition that everything worth knowing in scope and variety is contained in their castle. If the topics of norms and reference groups and human self are excluded from the castle, the gurus and the faithful therein just chop them off. Here we can briefly touch on a few— the earlier ones will be one-or-two-shot ones. The ones to follow represent efforts on the part of contributors who maintained sustained efforts through the years with their deep concern over the crisis that was in the coming.

While recognizing other sources of malaise, Alan Elms' concentration on the causes of prevailing crisis are mainly psychological and the way out of it is through a therapeutic process. He formulates the problem as "The Crisis of Confidence in Social Psychology"— ridden with self-doubts, self-questioning (Elms, 1975). He acknowledges that social psychology is still in a pre-paradigmatic stage of development, but absolves it from having anything to do with "crisis of confidence" (p. 970). He hardly touches on the inevitable dramatic impact of the great discrepancy between huge output in research and publication on the one hand but, on the other hand, in the same paragraph, he espouses the relatively tiny yield in substance which should produce proportionally demoralizing inner conflict. One needs self-confidence and has to restore self-esteem to accomplish something big alright. But one must be living in fool's paradise not to be shaken to the core, in conflicts, in the face of scanty yield in substance and literally ever growing and frenzied increase in research volume, which he praises as a sign of vitality. One should pose the question: Why aren't we any closer to attaining a paradigmatic stage in the 70's than we were in the 50's? Whatever happened to groups in social psychology? after piling up not less than 3,000 publications in this particular area alone since the 50's?

In the increasing diversity of alternatives offered for the plight of social psychology, Kenneth Gergen's paper attracted considerable attention (1973). It was evaluated pro and con by several others (PSPB, Fall, 1976). In brief, Gergen argues that social psychology can more appropriately be a historical enquiry rather than a "science" as he conceives science; because, he says, "its contribution to the task of prediction is highly limited." Not only a good many psychologists, but also a good many historians object to contrasting and reaching such a conclusion on the basis of the criterion

374) of ability to predict. There are cases in which historians made better predictions and vice versa. But the more troublesome question is to pick up one alternative and to put it as a mutually exclusive contrasting form: "Science versus history," "laboratory versus field research," "cognitive versus behavioral." Social sciences, including psychology, suffered greatly from such monopolistic dictums and practices well ingrained in the culture. The best of several worlds is to put the matter in the form of history and psychology and sociology, laboratory and field, etc. They are mutually supportive across disciplines and across methods as Triandis argued for (e.g., Triandis, 1975) and practiced and as we did, too, for years, to good advantage. Besides their being mutually supportive, cross checking across disciplines and across methods is the most effective device to insure validity which is the basis of predictions from the laboratory to the natural field events and vice versa. Generalizations concerning the impact of researcher on findings could be (and were) made both through history (Boring, 1942, p. 612) and through actual laboratory experiences (Rosenthal, 1966, b others) and both can be pulled together to the enrichment of both in gaining in perspective (history) and solidification of particulars (laboratory). It is the strongly ingrained practice in the culture to see these disciplines and methods in mutually exclusive form, a versus b instead of a and b and more, c and d cross comparisons and cross validations in a suitable number of their x and y combinations until what is established as a generalization or broader theory is no longer seriously challenged by rival schools. Such a process is among the effective ways to move up toward establishing a commonly shared paradigm on which those working in the area can all stand beyond and above the present bickering. This may contribute in some measure to putting some stop to the claims and counter claims of the present ethnocentric self-contained castles and factions throughout all the social sciences today. Social psychology is only one of the disorderly faction-infested tribes in the larger collectivity of social science.

This is the gist, in broad strokes, of which Thomas Kuhn was writing in different ways and with different metaphors, especially in the lengthy Epilogue where he further elaborated his conception of paradigm (1970). That new magic label (paradigm) is widely used and abused to refer to every pet theory to prove any partisan position, and to disprove an opponent in controversies.

The function that reigns throughout the length and breadth of the social sciences has made the search for a paradigm a fashionable pastime in symposia, in print, in controversies. Almost every sector in the social sciences (not only social psychology) has a dire need to bring about stabilization in the present unsettled state of chaos and crisis, despite the huge amounts of comings and goings and busy work, some of which is tied down to sophisticated technical work and produce as noted before.

Frantic search for bringing about some measure of coherence and substance will not come about until we have learned enough. We have to ask some fundamental questions— unthinkable questions to raise in terms of the "business as usual" mentality or "Just sharpen the technical Cools" first impulse when something goes wrong in a gadget addicted civilization.

The fundamental questions pertain to the basic orientations we take, basic models in whose image we design research designs, basic problems we start with. The indispensable aspect of the choice of techniques, their refinement, choices of instrumentation, tools of measurements and statistical analysis are not the first concerns nor are they the first questions

(375) to be all hopped up with at the start. To be sure, no headway can be made without the use of these instrumentalities. But these indispensable questions of instrumentalities become the very source of further frustration, further source of work yielding only refined chaff, unless the basic orientation and models are brought to the foreground for utmost concentration in the due sequence of steps to be taken. Considering Instrumentalities first is putting the cart before the horse.

IV. Some Remarks Toward Breaking Through the Crisis

All of what has been said so far points to one conclusion: The first phase is mobilizing the efforts, the instrumentalities available to us toward attainment of a paradigm that will chart our bearings towards stabilization; that will give us a coherent direction; that will provide valid criteria as to what is essential and what is trivial; and which methods and techniques are appropriate and inappropriate. For the all important matter of methods, techniques and statistical treatment is not independent of the direction and models inherent in the paradigm we are committed too consciously or unconsciously. As one of the prominent leaders in engineering psychology, A. Chapanis, of John Hopkins in his presidential address at the APA Convention (1961) warned his colleagues: "I am sometimes frankly appalled by the faith which some (technical) model builders have in their own powers of analytical and synthetic reasoning when it comes to making models of human behavior" (p. 130).

Chapanis further added, "My final criticism of (technical) model building is that the modeler often becomes so intrigued with the formulation of his models that he constructs them for essentially trivial problems" (p. 131). This amounts to the tool, in effect, rather than the human problems becoming the chief concern of the whole scientific activity.

The toughest and most crucial step in moving towards shaping up a valid paradigm is at the basis of all other steps, devices, measures, techniques that can be suggested towards building a valid social psychology that will produce more wheat than chaff in research output and that will have a bearing on actualities instead of only being more useful in getting recognition, promotion and tenure in the academic market place.

But toiling towards the shaping of the valid paradigm that all can share and all can stand on, beyond and above the castles of monopolistic factions, is a whale of a job. It requires first raising, in earnest, some "unthinkable" questions concerning the very foundations. In turn, raising such 64 dollar questions requires intellectual stamina, commitment and sustained effort to get out of the usual ruts. Such questions are not exactly welcomed by the majority in the main stream, and especially not by the influentials therein. However, raising such fundamental questions is the necessary step, the only step that leads to the eventual possibility of attaining a valid paradigm leading to valid orientations with valid techniques. These fundamental questions include the following:

1. What is the nature of a social system (a) in terms of its basic structure (that is, how are its parts related?) and (b) in terms of its functioning (that is, how it works in its essentials?). In raisins this question, at the basis of all other questions, some sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists are, I am afraid, far ahead of us and more genuinely concerned, as reflected in their publications and the kind of controversies they engage in, as compared to the publications and controversies of psychologists. Indeed, in the company of psychologists, it may be a bit jarring to start with the question of the nature of a social system, rather than asking first about the psychological system. But

(376) consider that we psychologists take the social system for granted, whereas we think that the proper thing to do in studying vision is to start with the physics of light. By the same logic, starting with the sociological question about social systems should not appear jarring at all, but the proper sequence. Stimulus determinants that humans are constantly in traffic with, and perhaps those that count most for them (such as their employer-employee relationships, car, social security card, family, church) are parts of the sociological system. Why don't we follow the same logic in studying human vision and human social psychology?

Of course we individuals are immersed in the social system and can take its stimulus determinants for granted, as the fish takes water for granted. But we also take light for granted. Why do we consider it proper to start with the physics of light but not with the question about the nature of a social system? Let's face it: The physical sciences are psychology's rich relatives. They are our reference groups. We strive to be like them as they are now— mature and established. But, we are oblivious to the tribulations that the creators of the established sciences went through at the hands of the Establishment of their times, when they raised their "unthinkable" questions. So we remain their dazzled copycats, our infatuation leading us to spend millions and to waste the precious labor of young people in invalidated and trivial novelties that are prestigious when presented as "simulation models" or simulation studies. Some are devised by non-psychologists or by psychologists who know hardly anything about psychology. But we don't even ask the obvious questions about such simulations: "Simulation of what? Of what validated reality?" Every experiment should be a simulation study— simulation of something in real life that we know at least something about. But the social disciplines are poor relatives to be kept as a respectable distance. It is not worth our time and effort to try to understand their questions and controversies. Instead, we are eager and willing to introduce more courses and conferences so that we can be more infatuated copycats of the established physical sciences.

2. The first question about social systems inevitably brings in its train the perennial question of "What is the nature of the human psychological system?" What is its basic structure; that is, what are the essential relationships among its parts? How does the system function or work? Of course, in both social and psychological systems, structure and function are inseparably intertwined.

Since this second question enters, or should enter, into every research in psychology (psychology of any kind represented by the 36 divisions of APA), genuine advances advantageous to all may be contingent on valid answers to this big and basic question. Here a fundamental issue has to be faced.

(a) Is the human psychological system across the cultures of humankind, in essentials, like a physical equilibrium system— a hydraulic system returning to its level when disturbed by outside forces, like winds, passage of a big boat, or some pressure applied from a specific direction at a particular time' Or, in the apt phrase of the great Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon (1932) is the human psychological system defined in terms of the self-regulating and built in "wisdom of the body"? Is the human psychological system different in essentials from the homeostatic workings of the physiological system?

(b) Or, as Clifford Geertz (1967, 1973) and dialectic social scientists argue with considerable supporting evidence, is the human psychological

(377) system transformed during development and concrete interchanges with the social environment, as it shapes up into a human individual in a given culture with its particular living conditions and social arrangements of class, gender, occupation, etc., with their associated value orientations?

Answers to the questions posed by this fundamental issue concerning the nature of the human psychological system are the pre-requisite for proceeding to the motivational question, namely "What makes human's tick?" What are the differential rewards and incentives that do count to humans in different cultures that they create and participate in? I have to cut short other questions that necessarily hinge upon this fundamental issue, in order to make a bit more concrete the bearing of eventual, correct answers to the cardinal questions for shaping a paradigm that will provide valid guidelines and models for research.

To make the bearing of the cardinal questions more concrete, I return briefly to the areas of small group research and attitude change research that I started with. Traditionally, these two areas are often regarded as unrelated and as independent from the cardinal questions about the nature of a social system and of the human psychological system. Yet, they show nicely that the answers given to these two cardinal questions have a bearing on research practice.

Let me start with the small group area in the form of an exercise that can easily be performed in a seminar: Compare authors who put the main emphasis in defining groups upon the interdependence of parts in a unit (system), but who do not make it a systematic "must" to spell out the terms of the interdependence versus those authors who go to great lengths to specify the terms of interdependence among parts of the unit in terms of its structural properties, namely the functional role-status relationships among individuals and the normative value pattern regulating their interactions. Track down the explicitly stated assumptions in each and trace down, in actual research, the assumptions implicitly implied about the nature of the social system. You will find that those who emphasize interdependence of parts without specifying the terms or structural properties of that interdependence often write of "forces" and "resultants of forces." Even when they do not, their implicit assumptions slant toward outright commitment to physicalistic models of a social system. Their research practice reduces the problem of a social system to the psychological level of analysis by focusing on interpersonal attractions or preferences. In contrast, those who put great stock on the differentiation of interdependencies in the group unit, in terms of role-status relationships and normative value patterns, are likely to be genuinely willing to borrow from the poor relatives in sociology, anthropology and other social sciences. They are likely to be interdisciplinary, willing to be in closer traffic with other social sciences and to work a little to find out something about the nature of social systems from them, as well as to borrow what they need from their rich relatives in the physical and biological sciences. An illuminating analysis of these issues was made recently by Frank Sims. a Penn State sociologist, and Luis Escovar, a University of Panama social psychologist, who focused their analysis on concepts of group solidarity. They contrast that concept and its use in research by those who adopt a physicalistic metaphor, thereby seeing the problem as a psychological question about what keeps individuals in a group and "glues" them together, versus those who analyze solidarity as a group property at the structural level of analysis, thereby seeing the problem as a question that cannot be divorced from the other properties

(378) of the social unit. The former define cohesiveness in terms of "resultant of forces" upon the individual, assessing them chiefly in terms of interpersonal attractions and preferences. The latter refer to the relative stability of the role pattern and normative structure in relation to the members' dealings in group activities and with the surrounding environment.

In returning to the earlier illustration of attitude change research, I shall focus on the important issue of "psychological consistency." Deliberately, I refer to psychological consistency as a more generic label than "cognitive consistency." Psychological consistency indicates more appropriately the wide range of cognitive-motivational-behavioral phenomena that have concerned personality, social, and other psychologists, as well as those people in real life who, for a long time, have said things such as "I'm surprised at what she said; it's not like her," or "I never thought he would do something like that," or "I am really hurt by what he did— he of all people," or "I can't bear what I have done." The phenomena dealt with are seldom solely cognitive phenomena, but are charged with motivational-affective components and come to our attention through behavioral manifestations.

On the one side theorists that conceive the human psychological system in the image of an equilibrium concentrated well-nigh exclusively on reduction of inconsistency or dissonance, to refer to the most popular on the equilibrium side. On the other side, theorists who conceived the human psychological system as shaped and transformed by the mode of living and working, cultural values and dialectics of interaction with the social environment focused on the directive self-system within it. The latter emphasized the consistency-inconsistency of cultural values in handling the psychological problems, making a strong case for the formation of an inconsistent self-structure, sometimes at odds with itself or with others in specific social situations. A significant number of individuals live their lives in a society whose values are incompatible, contradictory and conflicting. For example, Sunday piety and Monday go-gettingness exist side by side still. There is still something to be learned by consistency theorists from the vivid descriptions by Karen Horney of the inner conflicts resulting from incompatible, contradictory value orientations that individuals confront within their cultural settings (Horney, 1945). And the various social movements of the 1960's and 1970's should have taught us something about the close relationship between the psychological consistency problem and conflicting parts of the social system.

In this context, it is instructive to recall the predictions made by dissonance theorists about attitude change as a function of the degree of discrepancy between the person's original attitude and the attitudinal position expressed by another person. Their prediction of greater attitude change with greater discrepancies follows directly from the basic equilibrium model, whether that model is explicitly acknowledged or not. More time and energy has been expended on experimental work using dissonance theory than, very possibly, any other in social psychology. In fact, today, the strongest claim made by partisans of the theory is that it generated lots of research (e.g., Aronson, 1968, p. 27). Its critics sometimes regard that claim as a mixed blessing. In commenting on consistency theories, Harry Triandis (1975) summarized as follows: "In the 1960's, very much effort has been expended on consistency theories, particularly dissonance theory. In retrospect, this resulted in a small accomplishment. Perhaps one of the reasons is that dissonance phenomena account for very little of the variance of behavior and experience. They

(379) are real, all right, but to get such phenomena in the laboratory, one needs to do all sorts of things 'just right,' otherwise the phenomena are superseded by other phenomena" (p. 82). What a sad epitaph for all of that huge pile of research on the important problem of psychological consistency.

In the same paper, Triandis (whose first college degree was in engineering, by the way) analyzed the current crisis in social psychology and offered his ideas to overcome the impasse and parochial approaches through the use of cross-cultural comparisons and through the use of a combination of methods to insure validity. If such a need and such a remedy are to be followed up, sooner or later somebody has to pose the inevitable questions: What is the nature of the social system, and what is the nature of the human psychological system? In that context, Brewster Smith's evaluative verdict is highly instructive. He concluded: "The pursuit of traditional physical science models in social psychology has not worked well, but social psychology has been much more successful in demonstration studies that result in sensitization to variables and relationships" (Smith, 1976, p. 438).

V. The Roots of Crisis Prevailing in Academia are Deep and Wide

I have already laid out my central theme. What follows will be its expansion and some formulations towards implementing it. The central theme is as follows: (a) In spite of some corrective developments, social psychology has not converged in its efforts on an appropriate orientation. (This is another way of saying that it is still in a pre-paradigmatic state with rival factions actively pulling at cross purposes for scoring advantage over others in the academic marketplace.) (b) Converging on the right course requires valid answers to fundamental questions about the nature of social systems and of the human psychological system. Until work on these questions is underway, further concentration on sharpening of the tools is not likely to improve the pitifully meager wheat to chaff ratio.

Other social sciences (sociology, political science, economics, history) have been more keenly aware of the structural issues posed in the fundamental questions, especially about social systems. At least, they are closer to great political, economic, and cultural problems at the macro-level, including the upheavals and changes in the world today. Since such problems have their impacts upon even intimate interpersonal relations, psychologists are bound to be made increasingly concerned with them. Therefore, a glance at the crisis in other social sciences, with special emphasis on sociology, is in order.

Of course, it would be nice to be able to concentrate on our own crisis in social psychology, and let the other social sciences take care of theirs. However, fuller realization of the scope and seriousness of the crisis in other social sciences will make us more keenly aware of what kind of general orientation, basic assumptions and research models (in brief, what kind of paradigm) are needed in social psychology. Since the early days when I was working on the little volume The Psychology of Social Norms (1936), I have been concerned with the sociocultural context of human experience and behavior. But since I have been working recently on a book on intergroup relations, social movement and change, I have realized more fully that none of my topics in social psychology can be handled without a working conception of social and psychological systems. This realization grew as I have been hobnobbing with other social scientists and reading works in history, politics, and sociology for illustrative material.


Especially starting with the 1960's, sociology in this country has been undergoing a period of transformation. The dominant school headed by Talcott Parsons was considered almost as equivalent to the whole discipline in the 1950's. It subscribed essentially to an equilibrium conception of social systems. Since the 60's, this highly influential school in high places has been increasingly challenged and dethroned, as reflected, for example, in Alvin Gouldner's (1970) Coming Crisis in Western Sociology.

The equilibrium theories of social systems are criticized heavily by sociologists for their inability to handle the problem of social change (e.g., Martindale, 1965, p. 159). Their criticisms have a direct bearing for social psychology in several respects. The implication is perhaps obvious: The well ingrained orthodox conceptions of social system and the human psychological system are simply inadequate if they cannot handle the changes that actually occur at both sociological and psychological levels. Social psychologists have a golden opportunity here to move from trivial to real problems and, through collaborative research involving sociologists and psychologists, to coordinate the sociological and psychological levels of analysis in addressing the crucial and fundamental questions. In particular, the study of interaction among partisans of a social movement, of their interactions with persons outside of the movement and among movement-countermovement partisans offers such a golden opportunity. I would predict that the outcome would be conceptions of social systems and the human psychological system quite different from those that have been traditionally and still are dominant in these disciplines. In particular, the partial or total changes in the self-image of participants, with a resulting variety and scope of attitude changes, will, in my opinion, show us that questions about the nature of social systems and the human psychological system are not unrelated questions. Furthermore, I would be willing to bet that their relationships cannot be represented by equilibrium or homeostatic models for either the social or psychological system.

Here, I have to wrap up this basic point of psychological consistency which has implications for all psychological processes. Our criticism here of the consistency theories that are based on an equilibrium model must not be stretched to imply even one whit as a denial of the consistency issue as one of the cardinal problems of all psychology. We have been almost obsessed with it ever since working on it with Hadley Cantril as reflected in our Psychology of Ego Involvements volume (Sherif & Cantril, 1947). However, we are saying that its formulation which is not based on a defensible psychology of self-system and involvements of the self (ego-involvements if you will) is altogether off the mark. We are saying that any formulation of psychological consistency-inconsistency should start by bringing into the center this distinctly human concept of self and its involvements rather than basing it on analogical equilibrium models.

In the face of criticisms and evidence, Elliott Aronson in his 1968 reevaluation of the problem of "cognitive consistency" moved towards recasting it in terms of "the involvement of the self concept," to his credit (Aronson, 1968, e.g., p. 23, 25) 36 did Gordon Allport in his much quoted evaluative survey paper of 1943, Ego in Contemporary Psychology (Allport, 1943, p. 460, 461). It is explicitly stated or is an implicit assumption based on equilibrium models that delayed and still delays a valid formulation of the consistency-inconsistency problem on a sound basis in many influential quarters. The main thesis for making the distinctly human self-system and its involvements central (that is self involvements

(381) or ego-involvements as more widely known in literature) is that it is the rudder that navigates the course of human psychological consistencies and inconsistencies in terms of the specific properties of situations the humans are transacting within. A concise statement of this thesis is available under the entry self-concept in the new Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968).


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This paper is a revision and extension of the paper prepared for the symposium "Self-Contained Castles . . ." 84th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, September 1976. Request for reprints should be addressed to Muzafer Sherif, 507 Shannon Lane, State College, Pennsylvania 16801.

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