When it comes to psychology in general, I am a fan. I have a degree in it. At its best, psychology is an honest attempt to help people identify, ameliorate and possibly eliminate the causes of self-defeating and counterproductive thinking and behavior. It works for individuals and groups and organizations with an eye towards providing tools and techniques to mitigate negative outcomes.
There are many definitions of psychology and there are multiple versions of psychology. General psychology is illuminating. Clinical psychology is helpful. Organizational Psychology is productive. Social Psychology is useful… and then there’s Activist Social Psychology. Now, that as they say in The Land of Oz, is a horse of a different color.
Gordon Allport’s classic definition of social psychology is – “the scientific attempt to understand and explain how the thought, feeling, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others (Allport 1954). By and large, social psychology passes the “at least do no harm” test.
According to earlier editions of the book Principles of Psychology, cited below –
Social psychology was energized by researchers who attempted to understand how the German dictator Adolf Hitler could have produced such extreme obedience and horrendous behaviors in his followers during the World War II. The studies on conformity conducted by Muzafir Sherif (1936) and Solomon Asch (1952), as well as those on obedience by Stanley Milgram (1974), showed the importance of conformity pressures in social groups and how people in authority could create obedience, even to the extent of leading people to cause severe harm to others. Philip Zimbardo, in his well-known “prison study” (Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973), found that the interactions of male college students who were recruited to play the roles of guards and prisoners in a simulated prison became so violent that the study had to be
At that point in time, social psychology was not only energized, but also fixated on, the phenomenon of fascism; so much so that part of the research also involved the creation of the “F-Scale” whose intention it was to measure the propensity of individuals towards fascism. According to Wikipedia –
“The California F-scale is a 1947 personality test, designed by Theodor W. Adorno and others to measure the “authoritarian personality”.