Reflections on 100 Years of Experimental Social Psychology

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

prone to be more critical of their disciplinary colleagues than are historians of science. These cultural differences may exist to some degree within psychology, with the people in some fields being less likely than the members of other fields to believe that a manuscript is "guilty" unless clearly proven "innocent." Social psychology might be in the latter camp. There is a widespread but not well-substantiated belief that the social psychological culture has a pervasive norm toward finding fault. We hear anecdotes about how the social psychological members of grant review panels are often more critical of the submitted grants in their area than are the panelists from other scientific disciplines. This attitude, if it exists, conceivably could contribute to the relatively high rejection rate in the most prestigious social psychological journals.

Of course we have no clear evidence whether U.S. social psychology does indeed have the pervasive critical attitude that has just been suggested, and further, if such a "cultural norm" does exist, why it has come about. If we can extrapolate from findings reported by Amabile, 4 it could be that many of our reviewers are engaged in a self-presentational strategy. Amabile ( 1983, p. 146) demonstrated that highly critical reviewers are often regarded as "more intelligent, competent, and expert than positive reviewers," regardless of the actual quality of their assessments. Social psychological grant review panelists and manuscript reviewers might be especially hard on the grant applications and manuscripts they see partly because of a strong desire to show how smart they are (perhaps because they are especially concerned about their relative standing in the field).

To continue with my conjectures, I wonder if the relatively great use of other social psychologists as the primary reference group and the professional comparisons and competitiveness that may occur with this heightened awareness of one's disciplinary peers have not led to a certain amount of anxiety in contemporary social psychology about one's work and worth. More than ever before, social psychology seems to be afraid of making mistakes, of accepting theoretical generalizations that may not stand up under further research. Paradoxically, though, I suspect that this anxiety has also led to a greater adherence to established concepts and ways of thinking and a greater reluctance to question these ideas. I believe I can provide some examples of this, but not being free of anxiety myself, I think it's better for me just to raise this last possibility and stop here.


Notes
1.
I thank Aroldo Rodrigues and Robert Levine for organizing the Yosemite conference and prompting me to think about the changes in U.S. social psychology from the time I first began my graduate career at the University of Michigan in 1948. I thank Daniel Katz, my primary mentor at Michigan, for his comments on an initial draft of this essay. Klaus Scherer's observations on contemporary social psychology in the United States and Europe further enriched this chapter. I also thank Craig Berridge and Elliot Sober for their insight regarding research and publication practices in fields other than social psychology and, above all, for the interesting conversations I had with them.

-168-

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