During the decade and a half since it was taken off an airy diet of instincts and put on a nourishing diet of factual data, social psychology has been the child prodigy and the problem child of the social sciences. Growing awkwardly and sometimes randomly, but always growing at a tremendous rate, it was bold and meek by turns. Roundly cursed by some for the havoc its virile concepts caused in the elder disciplines, it was just as roundly praised by others for what it contributed to these disciplines.
Social psychology still retains its youthful vigor, but it has now passed its troubled adolescence and has arrived at a mature understanding of its phenomena. That understanding, briefly stated, is that the personality of the human being is acquired in the course of social interactions with other human beings.
So far, sociopsychological attention has been focused on the effects of social interaction upon the personalities of the individuals involved. The results of such attention have been amazingly fruitful, and much is now known concerning the processes by which individuals develop their personalities. Little has been done, however, with that aspect of social psychology which involves consideration of social interactions themselves.
This book was undertaken in the belief that it is now feasible to give more than passing consideration to the problem of the social interactions in which the individual develops his personality and in which he manifests that personality. Data have been accumulating here and there, data which are often conflicting, unrelated, and incomplete but which are in the mass nevertheless impressive. It has been my aim to bring these data together, to supplement them with the results of general observation, and to build therefrom a tentative frame of reference for further study.
In accordance with considerable precedent, I have designated this field of sociopsychological inquiry "collective behavior. . . ."