Front Page Titles (by Subject) The History of Social Psychology - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2
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The History of Social Psychology - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The History of Social Psychology
“Contemporary Social Psychology in Historical Perspective.” Social Psychology Quarterly 42, 1(1979): 82–93.
The history of social psychology as a field of empirical research covers only some eighty years. Despite this brief period of activity, social psychology has grown prodigiously in complexity and influence. As a social psychologist for the past forty years, Prof. Cartwright assesses the current state of the field in the light of its historical and social context.
Historically, the 1930s and 1940s witnessed the most rapid growth in the number of social psychologists and in the sophistication of their research. This development may be attributed to two factors. First of all, the rise of Hitler provoked a massive exodus of intellectual talent out of Germany. Men of the calibre of Lewin, Heider, Köhler, Wertheimer, Katona, Lazarsfeld, and the Brunswicks decided to settle and work in the United States. These emigrés brought to American social psychology a much needed freshness and originality, while they exerted a direct personal influence on students who would play a crucial role in the field's subsequent development: Asch, Krech, Festinger, Schachter, etc.
In addition, the problems generated by World War II induced the U.S. government to seek solutions by massively subsidizing social research. Investigations of topics ranging from building civilian morale to coping with the psychological problems of a wartime economy produced a tremendous mass of new information, although very little in the area of theory. This need for research also gave rise to ambitious training programs which continued operating even after the war. Their success may be measured by the fact that 90% of all social psychologists who have ever lived are alive at the present time.
While Prof. Cartwright expresses a basically positive view concerning the present state of his field, he nonetheless points to several areas where social psychology is experiencing difficulties. He characterizes these as maturation problems in a quite young science.
He regards, for example, the preponderantly white, American, middle-class status of most social psychologists as a hinderance to examining questions of importance to other classes and ethnic groups. He also feels that fascination with technical virtuosity has too often supplanted a concern for substance in research projects. Even more importantly, the lack of a general theory and the plethora of smaller ones has tended to fragment the field into discrete specialties with little or no relationship to one another. The most damaging of these divisions is that which exists between researchers who stress the psychological and those who emphasize the sociological aspects of life in society. Any developed general theory would have to integrate these two separate and often hostile approaches.