Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems

By Boon, Susan D. | Canadian Psychology, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems


Boon, Susan D., Canadian Psychology


FRANK W. SCHNEIDER, JAMIE A. GRUMAN, and LARRY M. COUTTS (Eds.) Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005, 464 pages (ISBN 1-4129-1539-2, US$64.95 Paperback)

I approached the task of reviewing Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts' edited book, Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, as someone trained in so-called basic social psychology whose exposure to applied social psychology has been derived more or less exclusively from reading the "extra" chapters tacked on to the end of my intro social psychology text, chapters on applications of social psychology to law, business, and health. In other words, I began the book with little sense of how diverse and rich the applied contributions of my counterparts in applied social psychology have been. Now, having read Applied Social Psychology, I have a renewed enthusiasm for my field and a much deeper appreciation of the range of situations in which social psychological theory and research may be, and indeed have been, applied, and a fuller understanding of the opportunities, perhaps even the obligation, that I have, as a social psychologist, to do research that positively impacts the world.

Though I think the appeal of Applied Social Psychology ought to extend well beyond the intended audience, Schneider et al. are marketing their book as an undergraduate level introductory text. It thus contains much of the pedagogy that instructors have come to expect in textbooks. For example, each chapter begins with an outline and ends with a summary, and important concepts are highlighted in bold within the body of the text. Most chapters also include brief "culture capsules" that highlight the role of culture in the topic area under discussion, as well as boxes entitled "focus on research" and "focus on intervention", which provide brief but detailed discussion of particular research studies and interventions, respectively. These boxes are a definite strength of the text and, in my opinion, are more effectively integrated with the other material discussed in the chapters than is often the case in undergraduate texts (where they often seem to function primarily as add-ons). I also especially liked the opening vignettes that most of the contentbased chapters employ to set the stage for the discussions that follow. On the other hand, margin definitions, glossaries, and suggestions for further reading are all missing here. Instructors and students who find this kind of material beneficial may find that the lack of these resources detracts from the text's effectiveness.

The typical undergraduate text is written by a single author or group of authors. Schneider et al. opted for a different approach: Theirs is an edited volume, a collection of chapters written by specialists in a wide range of topic areas (although the majority of the authors are from the Applied Social Psychology program at the University of Windsor or have academic ties to this program). Whereas it might have been natural in this case to expect problems with lack of consistency in style, organization, and content across the chapters, I was impressed by the effectiveness with which the editors maintained consistency throughout. One of the main strategies by which they achieved this level of success seems to have been by encouraging authors to use several classic theories and studies, where appropriate, in discussing the content relevant to their own areas of expertise. For example, discussions of theory and research on cognitive dissonance, bystander intervention, groupthink, conflict, and prejudice appear in several chapters. The result is a sense that there are major theories or themes that tie together much of the work discussed in the individual chapters, despite the diversity of topics to which these theories are applied. Of course, the repeated references to the same set of theories also function to demonstrate the practical utility of a good theory. …

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