In 1939 Lewin together with two of his doctoral students published the results of an experiment of significant historical importance. The investigators had arranged to have the same adults play different leadership roles while directing matched groups of children. The adults attempted to establish particular climates-that is, social environmental conditions-of democratic, autocratic, or completely laissez-faire leadership. The reactions of the children in the groupswere carefully observed, and detailed notes were taken on the patterns of social interaction that emerged. Although the experiment itself had many deficiencies, it demonstrated that something as nebulous as a democratic social climate could be created under controlled laboratory conditions.
The originality and success of this research had a liberating effect on other investigators. By the end of World War II, an outpouring of experimental research involving the manipulation of temporary social environments through laboratory stagecraft began. At the same time, important advances occurred in nonexperimental, or field, research in social psychology. The objective rather than the speculative study of social behavior is the current trend in social psychology.
Research Areas. Social psychology shares many concerns with other disciplines, especially with sociology and cultural anthropology. The three sciences differ, however, in that whereas the sociologist studies social groups and institutions and the anthropologist studies human cultures, the social psychologist focuses attention on how social groups, institutions, and cultures affect the behavior of the individual. The major areas of research in social psychology are the following.
Socialization. Social psychologists who study the phenomena of socialization, meaning the process of being made fit or trained for a social environment, are interested in how individuals learn the rules governing their behavior toward other persons in society, the groups of which they are members, and individuals with whom they come into contact. Questions dealing with how children learn language, sex role, moral and ethical principles, and appropriate behavior in general have come under intensive investigation. Also widely studied are the methods by which adults learn to adapt their patterns of behavior when they are confronted by new situations or organizations.
Attitudes and Attitude Change. Attitudes have generally been regarded as learned predispositions that exert some consistent influence on responses toward objects, persons, or groups. Attitudes are usually seen as the products of socialization and therefore as modifiable. Because the behavior of a person toward others is often, although not always, consistent with his or her attitudes toward them, the investigation of how attitudes are formed, how they are organized in the mind, and how they are modified has been considered of great practical as well as theoretical importance.
The discovery that attitudes follow from behavior as well as vice versa emerges from the well-tested assumption that people desire to preserve logical consistency in their views of themselves and their environments. A number of theories of cognitive consistency have become important in social psychological thinking. These theories stress the idea that individuals have a personal stake in believing that their own thoughts and actions are in agreement with one another, and that perceiving inconsistency between one's actions and thoughts leads to attempts to reduce the inconsistency. Through research, social psychologists attempt to understand the conditions under which people notice an inconsistency and the conditions under which they will attempt to reduce it by changing significant attitudes. Studies support the consistency-theory prediction that the attitudes of a person about a group of people can often be changed by inducing the person to change his or her behavior toward the group; the attitude change represents the efforts of the person to bring his or her ideas about the group into agreement with how he has just acted toward its members.
Social Affiliation, Power, and Influence. The factors that govern whether and with whom people will affiliate, as well as whether and how they will attempt to influence or be influenced by others, have received much attention by social psychologists. Researchers have determined, for example, that if people are unsure of how they should feel or behave in response to a new or unpleasant situation, they will seek the company of others who may be able to provide the lacking information. Social psychologists have also found that firstborn and only children are generally more inclined to join groups throughout their lives than are those born later.
Group Structure and Functioning. Social psychologists have studied many issues related to questions of how the group and the individual affect one another, including problems of leadership functions, styles, and effectiveness. Social psychologists investigate the conditions under which people or groups resolve their conflicts cooperatively or competitively and the many consequences of those general modes of conflict resolution. Research is conducted also to determine how the group induces conformity and how it deals with deviant members.
Personality and Society. Some social psychologists are particularly concerned with the development and consequences of stable individual differences among people. Differences in the degree of achievement motivation have been found to be measurable and to have important consequences for how a person behaves in various social situations. Systems of attitudes toward authority, such as the notion of the authoritarian personality, have been found to relate to attitudes toward ethnic minorities and to certain aspects of social behavior. A personality syndrome known as Machiavellianism, named after the Italian