Seventy Years of Social Psychology: A Cultural and Personal Critique


  • Gustav Jahoda


This paper traces some salient aspects of my research career, focusing largely on work in West Africa. From this lessons are drawn about the shortcomings of social psychology, especially in its laboratory version. It tends to tacitly ignore the effects of cultural influences, assuming that its findings are universally valid. Studies are mainly conducted with adults, generally college students, who are unrepresentative even of the general population of the United States where the bulk of social psychological studies are concentrated. This is justified in terms an alleged ‘psychic unity’. Social psychology pays little attention to the processes whereby children become socialized into particular cultures, which then governs their social behaviour. Methods are usually formal, and observational ones are eschewed, so that research takes place in artificial setting. This brings me to the almost complete absence of links with cognate disciplines, notably anthropology, which could greatly enrich social psychology. Suggestions are made for more wide-ranging approaches which would overcome the aridity of a great deal of current experimental social psychological research.