The beginning of modern experimental social psychology is most often traced to Norman Triplett's 1898 study of bicycle racers 100 years ago. 1 This book celebrates that century milestone by asking nine legends to look back upon the history of the field that they themselves have been so integral in creating.
Of course, the discipline of social psychology may be viewed as considerably older than 100 years. In his chapter on the history of the discipline in the second edition of The Handbook of Social Psychology, Gordon Allport argued that a case can be made that the founder of social psychology was Plato, or perhaps Aristotle, or at least one of the later political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and Jeremy Bentham. Or, he suggests, we could look in more recent times for our founding father, perhaps to one of the great thinkers of the nineteenth century -- such as Hegel, Comte, Lazarus, and Steinthal -- who wrote about social psychological issues. But all of these early ancestors limited their social psychology to theory and philosophy. It is experimental social psychology whose beginnings are generally traced to Triplett's experiment.
Then again, to many of today's practitioners of the field, experimental social psychology is actually several decades younger than 100 years. As we shall see in the chapters that follow, the functional beginnings of modern experimental -- or at least empirical -- social psychology are most often located in the work of Kurt Lewin and his Research Center for Group Dynamics in the late 1930s and 1940s. Several of the contributors to this book worked with Lewin; all were closely associated with the next generation of his successors. Morton Deutsch captures the striking overlap between the modern era of the field and the careers of this book's contributors when he begins his chapter: "My life almost spans the existence of modern social psychology."
The relatively short span of experimental social psychology's history offers a unique opportunity for intimate reflection. The writer Tony Hiss once commented: "Our relationship with the places we know and meet up with-where you are right now; and where you've been earlier today; and wherever you'll. be in another few hours -- is a close bond, intricate in nature, and not abstract, not remote at all; it's enveloping, almost a continuum with all we are and think." 2 This sense of intimate connection to Triplett's experiment, and certainly to Lewin and his followers, is communicated throughout this book.