Reflections on 100 Years of Experimental Social Psychology

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

6
Experimental Social
Psychology: Behaviorism
with Minds and Matters

Philip G. Zimbardo

This chapter begins with Philip Zimbardo's reflections on being an experimental social psychologist. He describes the old paradigm that dominated experimental social psychology in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, characterized by ingenious stage settings in which the subject's behavior was observed. With the surge of ethical concerns regarding subjects' well-being, this paradigm has been replaced by the tendency to ask subjects to imagine situations and report how they would react to them. Zimbardo lists a number of factors responsible for the demise of the old and the advent of the new research paradigm. He then considers how his experiences growing up in the Bronx revealed to him the importance of situation, arousing in him an interest for social psychology. He reports on the golden years of social psychology at Yale and shows how he came to learn what matters in social psychology: situation, culture, content, methodology, behavior, people, and application. Zimbardo concludes by recognizing three outstanding social psychologists he interacted with: Hovland, Schachter, and Milgram.

It is an honor to be included among the distinguished social psychologists whose ideas enrich not only this volume but also the entire field of social psychology. Although I am now a registered member of the Medicare generation, nevertheless I am the "baby" of this group, along with my slightly older sibling, Elliot Aronson. As such, in this chapter, I play the role of the student, wide-eyed with enthusiasm and endless curiosity about the social nature of human nature. I begin by telling what it means to me to be an experimental social psychologist, then describe the "candy store" that I found and raided as a graduate student at Yale University in the mid-1950s and how I was influenced by the behaviorist orientation that ruled the day back then to take some of its best values into social psychology. I use this occasion to reflect on the boustrophedonic path my career has taken, its meandering nudged by random personal experiences and fortu-

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