The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations

The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations

The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations

The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations

Excerpt

Like many social psychologists of my generation, I first encountered The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations some years prior to its publication. A dittoed early draft of the manuscript had been widely circulated and, in those pre-Xerox days, a graduate student thought to be deserving and (more importantly) neat would be permitted to borrow it overnight, one chapter at a time.

For most of us, the approach to the study of social behavior described in that dog-eared purple manuscript was arcane. Fritz Heider was not a well- known figure. Compared to his better-known contemporaries, he had published relatively little and the major portion of his career had been spent in the supportive but somewhat isolated environs of Smith College and the University of Kansas. Certainly his work was less familiar than that of two other social psychologists who worked in the Gestalt tradition--Kurt Lewin and Solomon Asch. Moreover, in that Zeitgeist there was something vaguely perverse about a self-consciously "common sense psychology." After all, the 50's were the heyday of the "nonobvious" hypothesis, and proponents of such approaches as dissonance theory developed great skill at generating predictions that seemed to violate common-sense expectations. Common sense formed a sort of baseline; a theory's adequacy was measured by its ability to go beyond the naive person's intuition.

In contrast, Heider's concern was with "surface events," the aspects of social life that are intuitively understood and obvious. Just as functioning in the physical world requires a grasp--however elementary--of the principles by which the physical world operates, so too does functioning in the social world require some means of understanding the behavior of others.

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