Reflections on 100 Years of Experimental Social Psychology

By Aroldo Rodrigues; Robert V. Levine | Go to book overview

4
Adventures in Experimental Social Psychology: Roots, Branches, and Sticky New Leaves

Elliot Aronson

Elliot Aronson presents social psychology as a story of sin and redemption. He contends that although the field deals with "Some of the least appetizing aspects of human behavior," it also provides "the tools and the understanding that encourage people to overcome" these unpleasant behaviors. In this chapter Aronson describes his copassions for doing rigorous research and focusing this research on issues of benefit to humanity. He traces these interests to the influence of two mentors, Leon Festinger and Abraham Maslow. Through reflections on his own life as a social psychologist, Aronson illustrates his firm belief in "an elliptical flow from theory back to theory." He believes that social psychology should rely heavily on experimentation, be capable of generating nonobvious hypotheses derived from theory and ingeniously testing them, and attempt to "do good" by applying the results of empirical research toward the solution of social problems. Oftentimes, he points out, it is in the process of applying knowledge to concrete situations that the original theory is refined, and with this the flow of theory-research-application-theory begins again. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of synthesis, when the role of "roots and branches" can be seen, and stressing the need for training students carefully to craft ingenious experimental designs.

The nature of this book is such that it virtually gives me an engraved invitation to engage in some flagrant self-indulgence. (Here I can hear the Greek chorus of my former students chortling and saying, "As if old Ellie ever needed an invitation for self-indulgence!") Be that as it may, in this essay I want to indulge my addiction as a chronic and habitual storyteller and tell you a little story about my forty-three-year love affair with experimental social psychology. Somewhere along the way, I will reveal my own biased, idiosyncratic vision of experimental

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