Features, Roles, and Problems
Examples of Applied Social Psychology
A Definition of Applied Social Psychology
Divisions of the Field
Typical Features of Applied Social Psychology
A Problem Orientation
A Value Orientation
A Focus on Social Situations
A Broad Approach
Basic Versus Applied Science
Uses of Theory in Applied Work
Roles and Activities
Consultation and Change Agentry
Management of Organizations
Is Social Psychology Really Applicable?
Has Social Psychology Been Applied?
The Applied Versus Theoretical Conflict
Should Social Psychology Be Experimental?
Can Social Science Influence Public Policy?
Other Responses Concerning Applicability
Problems for Applied Social Psychology
What Is the Evidence?
Is the Evidence Generalizable?
All science must be applied science, the goal of which is to lighten the toil of everyday life.
Social psychology, briefly defined, is the scientific study of relationships between people. It develops systematic knowledge about people's beliefs, feelings, and behavior concerning their social environment, and the effects of their social environment on them. Despite the goal stated in Galileo's quotation above, much of psychology (like other sciences) is not applied.
Applied social psychology, again stated very simply, takes some aspect of the knowledge base of social psychology and applies it systematically for some social purpose. The purposes for which social psychological knowledge is used, however, are not scientifically governed and can be extremely varied—from advancing world peace to selling iceboxes to Eskimos.
We will return to a fuller consideration of these definitions shortly. In recent years applied social psychology has been expanding rapidly on many different fronts, so let's begin with some examples of its variety.
One well-known social psychologist, Edwin Hollander, summarized his own participation in a fascinating variety of projects. Topics of his work have included attitudes toward the uses of atomic power, opinions about various political leaders, prediction of long-term job performance, and advice on how to maintain effective group functioning on lengthy space flights. His atomic power study was sponsored by UNESCO in order to compare the attitudes of young people in several different countries, while his report on interpersonal factors in space flight was of crucial interest to the U.S. authorities in NASA (Hollander, 1979).
Similarly, a French applied psychologist, Claude Levy-Leboyer (1988), has described several of her applied projects. They included helping to design TV presentations on alcoholism prevention, analyzing reasons for high versus low turnover of nursing
personnel in wards of Parisian hospitals, finding and correcting reasons for vandalism to public phone booths, and determining acceptable schedules for weekend night work shifts for heavy machine operators in an automobile factory.
Another social psychologist, Judith Rodin, gave testimony to a U.S. congressional committee in hearings about the budget of the National Science Foundation.
She began by stating, "We stand at the threshold of an era where the burdens of modern society can, in large part, be attributed to problems of behavior." As examples, she cited problems of energy use, overcrowding of cities, poverty, and crime, as well as her own research on the causes and consequences of obesity in humans. She concluded that solutions to these problems "rely heavily on the scientific study of human behavior" (Lowman, 1980, p. 160).
Social psychologists can attack social problems on several different levels. For instance, on an individual level, the widespread problem of personal shyness was studied by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues. Their research culminated in a popular book offering scientifically based advice on how to overcome shyness (Zimbardo, 1977).
At the level of group interactions, the social problems of prejudice and racism have concerned social psychologists for most of this century. Over 40 years ago social psychological research was cited in the Supreme Court's decision outlawing racial segregation in schools in the case of Brown v. Board of Education (Cook, 1979). In subsequent years, many social psychologists have worked toward improving interracial relations in desegregated schools, for example by introducing theory-based systems of smallgroup cooperative learning. We will discuss educational issues of this sort in Chapter 8.
Social psychologists have also been active at the level of complex organizations. Notable examples include "team-building" approaches to foster cooperative work-team efforts toward common goals; innovative organizational procedures such as "quality circles," participative management, and employee ownership•and emphasis on humanizing the work environment and improving the "quality of working life." A critical issue in recent years is how to handle increasing ethnic, cultural, and gender diversity among organizational members (cf. Chemers, Oskamp, & Costanzo, 1995). We will discuss some of these applications of social psychology in organizational settings in both Chapters 9 and 10.
Finally, in the area of government policy and programs, there has been a wide range of social science research. There are notable examples concerning programs to fight poverty, such as the famous negative income tax experiment sponsored by the Office of Economic Opportunity, programs to improve health care, and educational innovations such as Head Start (cf. Zigler & Muenchow, 1992). Some of these are described in more detail in Chapter 17.
A DEFINITION OF APPLIED
After these examples, let us consider definitional issues more carefully. Defining any intellectual discipline or field of knowledge is a nebulous endeavor because discipline boundaries often shift as trends and emphases in the field change. For this reason the most complete, though not elegant, definitions are ones stated in terms of what topics are being worked on—for example, defining "psychology" as "what psychologists do"—because such definitions are the only ones likely to capture the full range of a field.
For a more systematic approach, however, we suggest defining applied social psychology as applications of social psychological methods, theories, principles, or research findings to understanding or solution of social problems. In adopting this definition, we should realize that applied work in turn can contribute fruitfully to fundamental psychological theories, principles, and methods (cf. Leventhal, 1980). Thus the direction of influence is reciprocal—from basic psychology to applied work, and from applied psychology back to basic knowledge.
The above definition of applied social psychology aims at being inclusive but also focused. Note that it specifies a problem orientation: Applied work begins with a group or societal problem, not just with scientific curiosity about some phenomenon. The definition also implies heavy concentration on field settings—that is, natural settings where social problems are manifested—though it does not prevent the use of laboratory experiments when they can help to solve problems. Furthermore, it suggests serious attention to encouraging social change through the solution of social problems—a much more activist stance than social psychologists have traditionally taken. The phrase "solution of social problems" should be interpreted broadly to include helping groups of people and organizations, as well as attempting to influence public policy. Finally, the definition includes the use of social psychological methods, not just theories or research findings—an important additional aspect of applied work that has often been overlooked or excluded by more restrictive definitions.
Some authors would not define applied social psychology so broadly, particularly in reference to its use
of methods. It is clear that many of the methods used by social psychologists are not unique to them but are also used by sociologists, political scientists, economists, or members of other social science disciplines (for instance, this is true of survey research, of evaluation research, and of many statistical techniques such as multiple regression analysis). In fact, social psychology is a field shared and contributed to by sociologists as well as psychologists. Thus, some of the methods and the findings discussed in this book can be referred to more broadly as "applied social science," and some of the work cited here has been done by researchers from other social science disciplines, not just by people who would call themselves "psyshologists."
Nevertheless, where social psychologists have worked productively in a research area, and where they have used social psychological concepts, principles, and theories to explain their findings, it seems legitimate to refer to the whole area as "applied social psychology" and to include the work of other social scientists in the discussion of findings. Certainly there are enough applied problems for all of us to work on, so we should not need to fight over the turf; and it is important to realize that each social science discipline has some unique contributions to offer to an interdisciplinary problem-solving approach.
Much of what is said in this book would apply equally well to applications in other social science fields, such as applied sociology (see Lazarsfeld & Reitz, 1975). However, psychologists can be differentiated from other disciplines by typical aspects of their approach, which include rigorous experimental research methods and emphasis on psychological
processes and concepts as explanations of obtained findings. A little later in this chapter we will discuss some of the other typical features of the field.
Divisions of the Field
One way to divide a discipline is by content areas or topics. Thus applied social psychology might be divided into content areas such as the environment, mass media, health and health care, consumer issues, crime and the law, and so on. Though such divisions may overlook newly emerging areas of the field, they are usually quite satisfactory as organizational headings, and the third section of this book has been organized according to such major content areas. An alternative way to partition a field is by its major types of research methods. Because use of social psychological research methods is such an important portion of the field's applications, we have organized the second section of this book according to that scheme, emphasizing the strengths and weaknesses of each of five main research approaches.
Another common way to divide an applied discipline is a three-part one, using the categories of theory,
research, and practice. For instance, Ronald J. Fisher (1982) organized his description of applied social psychology in that way. Moreover, he held that every applied social psychologist needed to possess skills in all three categories in order to work effectively on any given type of problem, and that applied psychologists should not be solely researchers nor solely practitioners. In keeping with this view, major theories and principles used in applied social psychology are summarized in Chapter 2 and at many places throughout this volume. Similarly, examples of practice in creating social change are presented in many chapters and particularly in the fourth section of the book.
A different model of applied social psychology was offered by Clara Mayo and Marianne La France (1980), who stated the goal of the field as improving the quality of life. This stress on improving the quality of life as the goal of applied efforts is incorporated in several chapters of this volume.
TYPICAL FEATURES OF APPLIED
How does applied social psychology differ from other fields of psychology? Starting from the definition of applied social psychology given above, let's look at some of its typical features.
A Problem Orientation
Our definition stated the aim of the field as "understanding or solution of social problems." This highlights one of the key features of the field: the fact that it typically begins by focusing on some kind of problem in society. For example, an applied social psychologist might start with a concern about violence in our society. From there, he or she might: (a) design a study to learn more about the phenomenon, or (b) analyze the already available research knowledge and use it to plan an intervention or social program that would try to reduce some aspect of violence. In either case, the focus would be on the problem—violence.
In contrast, the approach of traditional "basic" science would choose a topic for study because of its relevance to some theory in the field, and would focus on finding evidence to support or refute the theory in question. A traditional basic scientist who chose to study a topic like violence would typically consider it as a special case of a theoretical concept—for instance, as an example of aggression within the frustration aggression theory. Basic scientists would be less likely to plan an intervention to reduce societal violence, but if they did do so, it would be mainly for the purpose of providing support for the theory that they were using.
Thus there may be considerable overlap between the activities of basic and applied scientists. Both may plan studies to gather new information. Both may stress theories as ways of understanding a social phenomenon, though that is more apt to be the central focus of interest of a basic scientist. Both may carry out interventions designed to change some social phenomenon, but that is more likely to be the main goal of an applied scientist. The key difference is in the scientists' goals rather than their activities—are they interested primarily in developing, supporting, or refuting a theory; or are they hoping to contribute toward solving a social problem?
Of course, many studies and many scientists are both basic and applied. The same woman or man can switch back and forth between the two types of scientific work. And some studies—often the most valuable ones of all—seem quite clearly to be both theory oriented and problem-oriented. Such dual-purpose studies provide good examples of applied research on social problems at the same time that they contribute new theoretical knowledge about the world we live in.
Further aspects of theory-oriented versus problem oriented research are discussed in a very useful chapter by Morton Deutsch (1980).
A Value Orientation
The claim that conventional science is value-free seeking "knowledge for its own sake"—has often been challenged (for instance, in the famous appendix on values in Myrdal's 1944 book, An American Dilemma; also by Ring, 1967). However, there is no controversy about the status of applied science—it definitely is not value-free. The definition of some topic as a social "problem" obviously requires a negative value judgment, which is, in the final analysis, always a personal one by the investigator. In some societies and historical periods, killing another person has not been considered a serious offense, whereas in our society murder is strongly condemned. Even in our society, some people see the more than 20,000 murders committed in the United States every year as a social problem requiring strenuous action, such as handgun registration and control, whereas other people see them merely as "a price we pay for freedom" (a quote from congressional testimony by an official of the National Rifle Association).
The above example illustrates an important point about value orientations. Our complex, pluralistic society contains many groups, each of which may have its own typical value system, and these varying systems are often at least partially incompatible. Similarly, as individuals, we often find ourselves in situations where two positive values are in conflict and we have to choose between them (Smith, 1978). The freedom to bear arms versus the desire to reduce murders; the value of better medical care for developing nations versus the wisdom of investing those same funds in birth control assistance to reduce overpopulation or in emergency food supplies to prevent widespread famine—these are value conflicts where no general consensus is likely. Yet applied social scientists who want to work on such problem areas must start with a value position that will help them determine for themselves what circumstances constitute a social problem that needs solving. A number of social psychologists have offered such guidelines for desirable value positions for researchers (e.g., Kelman & Warwick, 1978; Opotow, 1990; Smith, 1975, 1976). It is also possible that applied research findings can influence people's values, as we have seen in the last several decades in changing American attitudes toward gender equality (cf. Chapter 9).
As mentioned above, one suggested value standard is improvement of people's quality of life (Mayo & La France, 1980). This approach embodies a positive and proactive stance of actively fostering people's overall well-being rather than merely reacting to the negative aspects of life, which we term social problems. It also requires applied social scientists to adopt an explicit value commitment as a basis for their work.
Implicit in the two features discussed above is the assumption that the knowledge and methods of social psychology will be useful in achieving social goals.
This was a cardinal principle of Kurt Lewin (1948), one of the most important figures in American social psychology. Lewin proposed the concept of action research to denote scientific work firmly grounded in theory but at the same time directed toward "resolving social conflicts."
The theme of social psychology's usefulness was extended by Michael Saks (1978), who advocated a "high-impact applied social psychology." He proposed that applied scientists should focus their efforts on the specific aspects of a social problem where they would have the most impact in resolving it. For example, an applied researcher might concentrate on trying to prevent crime rather than to rehabilitate criminals or to console victims of crime. This general principle can be applied to the choice of problems to study, the selection of variables to concentrate on within a given problem, the question of whether to treat a problem's consequences or try to prevent them from occurring in the first place, and the decision about what kind of interventions to use in attacking the problem.
KURT LEWIN, PROPONENT OF A USEFUL PSYCHOLOGY
One of the most influential founders of modern social psychology, Kurt Lewin was born in Prussia in 1890. He studied at Freiburg and Munich and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Berlin in 1914. After serving in the German Army in World War I, he returned to teach at the University of Berlin.
There he became a noted member of Berlin's famous school of Gestalt psychology and later developed his own theoretical approach, termed field theory. After some international teaching and travels, he left Germany to escape Nazism in 1932 and taught briefly at Stanford and Cornell before settling at the University of Iowa. In 1944 he moved to M.I.T. to found the Research Center for Group Dynamics, which
was transferred to the University of Michigan after Lewin's untimely death in 1947.
Lewin preeminently combined applied and basic scientific interests and activities. He was noted as a theorist for his development of psychological field theory. Yet he strongly emphasized the value of applied work on social problems, and he originated the concept of "action research," combining basic theoretical research and social action in a coordinated program. He became famous for studies of democratic and autocratic group leadership methods, group discussion and decision processes, and group participation methods in organizational management. He also worked on practical projects to lessen prejudice and reduce public attitude problems during World War II. His concepts of "group dynamic" processes were instrumental both in the scientific study of human groups and in the founding of the National Training Laboratory at Bethel, Maine, where the "T-group method" was developed as a means of improving group effectiveness and personal social adjustment.
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Another aspect of social utility is that social scientists' work, no matter how important, must be understandable to others before it will be readily adopted and used. In order to be seen as relevant and useful, we must simplify all unnecessary complexity in describing our work, and express it in plain English rather than technical jargon. In addition, we should try to communicate to the general public through nontechnical journals, the mass media, and popular lectures or workshops (Posavac, 1992).
A Focus on Social Situations
A characteristic that both basic and applied social psychology share is emphasis on the power of social situations to affect people's beliefs, feelings, and behavior.
This emphasis on the power of situations is in contrast to some other areas of psychology, which tend to stress the importance of physiological factors or personality characteristics. For instance, a prominent concept in social psychology is the fundamental attributional error—the common tendency to underestimate the situational causes of other people's behavior and exaggerate the dispositional or personality causes (see Chapter 2 for more details).
In short, social psychologists usually think of situational factors as the most important ones in influencing behavior.
A Broad Approach
To be as useful as possible, applied social psychology needs to be comprehensive and inclusive in its approach to social problems. This means, for instance, considering the whole range of variables that might influence a particular area of concern. This may also be referred to as a macro rather than micro level of analysis. In studying a topic such as expression of racial prejudice, for example, we need to know not only individual attitudes and experiences and immediate stimulus events, but also the social norms and expectations people have learned during their lives, and the characteristics of the overall social system within which they live (Lott & Maluso, 1995; see Chapter 9). Often such considerations will lead to an interdisciplinary approach, in
which sociological, economic, and political factors are considered in addition to psychological ones.
It is clear that applied social psychologists are more inclined than most psychologists to do research in field settings—that is, natural settings where people live, work, or play, and consequently feel comfortable and behave in their usual ways. This naturalness is in marked contrast to the artificial atmosphere of most laboratory experiments.
In traditional social psychology the well-controlled laboratory experiment has been the research method of choice. As we will see in Chapter 4, this approach allows a few variables to be selected for study out of the multitude of factors that may influence a phenomenon of interest, and these variables can then be carefully controlled or manipulated, and their effects can be precisely measured. In contrast to controlled experiments, another common research tradition in social psychology has been the use of nonmanipulative or correlational methods, which will be discussed in Chapter 5.
Though correlational studies can be conducted in field settings, they are most often done in classroom settings, using undergraduates as the research subjects (Sears, 1986).
Thus, in typical social psychological research the use of field settings, though often advocated, has been largely absent. During the 1960s and 1970s, studies done in field settings constituted no more than 10% of the articles appearing in the major social psychological journals (Fried, Gumpper, & Allen, 1973; Helmreich, 1975; Mark, Cook, & Diamond, 1975). Even the Journal of Applied Social Psychology gave only about 25% of its space to field studies at that time. These patterns have continued, only slightly abated, in the mainline social psychological journals. However, by the 1990s, the balance of articles in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology had shifted to about 60% field studies (Schultz & Butler, 1996).
In addition, many of the field studies of applied social psychologists are published, not in general social psychological journals, but in more specialized journals. These journals may focus solely on evaluation research or on particular content areas, such as criminal justice, health care, the environment, the mass media, educational research, consumer psychology, or organizational research. Each of these areas of research will be taken up at length in later chapters of this book.
Applied social psychology, much more than traditional social science disciplines, has to pay attention to practical considerations. To start with, much applied research is done in response to the needs or formal requests of a client or sponsoring agency. As a result, it
must often be conducted under severe time constraints in order to be useful to the client or sponsor. These characteristics are quite different from the typical course of basic research in academic settings, in which investigators have relatively complete freedom to choose the topic, method, and pace of their work.
For research results to be applicable in solving social problems, they must first be strong enough to have
practical importance. Second, it is important for them to generalize to other situations—that is, to different tasks, measuring instruments, research subjects, organizations, and subcultures. We will return to these issues near the end of this chapter.
Another practical consideration that has received increasing attention is cost-benefit comparisons. Even if research results are strong and broadly generalizable, they may be too expensive to implement in a practical social program. For instance, the U.S. national 55 mph speed limit, initiated during the energy shortages of the 1970s, was shown to have saved many lives and much gasoline, yet many truckers and motorists strenuously objected to it because they felt its benefits did not compensate for its personal costs to them. As a result, the national 55 mph limit was finally terminated in 1996.
In recent years the computation of benefit-to-cost ratios has become common in decision making about governmental programs and industrial and commercial investments. This approach requires applied social scientists to develop quantitative estimates about both the costs and the expected benefits of social programs that they hope to implement. Since program benefits are often previously unquantified concepts like job satisfaction or improved mental health, workers in the field have had to develop and test new techniques for estimating their dollar value. An interesting example is the calculation that every dollar spent on high-quality preschool programs would save the nation seven dollars in later costs for special education, school dropouts, welfare, delinquency, and other social problems (Barnett, 1992).
A final practical factor that applied scientists must consider is the political feasibility of programs. For example, every year in the U.S., handguns are used in approximately 15,000 of the nation's 20,000 murders and in half a million other crimes. Research results have shown that major handgun registration and control laws could decrease these totals significantly (e.g., Podell & Archer, 1994). For decades, a large majority of the U.S. population, even including gun owners, has been in favor of stricter handgun control laws (Moore & Newport, 1994). Yet, with the exception of Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C., most states and cities found it politically impossible to pass handgun control laws until very recently. The reason is that very powerful lobbying organizations, such as the National Rifle Association, have shot down all other previous attempts to pass gun restriction or gun control laws (Kleck, 1991; Schumer, 1993). Other kinds of social programs may also be politically unfeasible at a given time because of strongly entrenched opposition by powerful political groups or individuals.
Basic versus Applied Science
The above distinctions between "basic" and applied scientific approaches, as well as other_related points, have been summarized in a shorthand form by Bickman (1981—see Table 1-1). As the table shows, the differences in purposes and activities between applied and basic science also produce differences in their context, methodologies, and participants.
USES OF THEORY IN APPLIED WORK
In view of all the practical considerations of applied work, what good are theories to the applied social scientist? Isn't applied scientific work often described as nontheoretical? Aren't theories often contrasted with practical reality, and theorists referred to as impractical dreamers? Yes, but these criticisms overlook the very real value of theories in everyday life as well as in science.
"Practical" people operate, whether they know it or not, on the basis of principles that were first suggested and later verified by theorists. The "simple" act of driving a car, for example, involves the use of many scientific principles, including gravity, centrifugal force, rolling friction, inertia, peripheral vision, human reaction time, and size constancy of objects. Even though we may not think about the concepts themselves, we still depend on our essential understanding of them to get us safely home.
In science, theories have several important functions:
1. Theories provide the ideas that guide our steps in research.
2. Like the map of an unfamiliar city, theories help us understand the findings of research. They provide a con-text into which we can place demonstrated facts, see how and why they fit together, and note where they are inconsistent and need further exploration.
3. Theories give us a basis for predicting what will happen in the future under a given set of conditions. In turn, such predictions provide one of the best tests of a theory's adequacy.
4. Valid theories help us control events. They specify the variables or conditions we must control or manipulate to develop programs or interventions that will be likely to reach our goals.
Just as in basic scientific research, valid theories are also useful in solving social problems. Fifty years ago Kurt Lewin stressed this point in a famous quotation:
Many psychologists working today in an applied field are keenly aware of the need for close cooperation between theoretical and applied psychology. . . .There is nothing so practical as a good theory. (1944/1951, p. 169)
Scientific theories vary widely in their scope or range of applicability. A few, such as the theory of relativity in physics, are broad, encompassing a tremendous range of phenomena. Psychological theories don't have such a broad scope; psychoanalysis may come closest to this extreme. At the other extreme are mini-theories dealing with a very limited set of events and circumstances. One example in social psychology is Latane and Darley's (1970) theory of diffusion of responsibility among bystanders in emergency situations. Between the broad, general theories and the mini-theories are many midrange psychological theories with varying degrees of scope—for instance, cognitive dissonance, learned helplessness, or social exchange theories. Any or all of these diverse theories can be useful to the applied social scientist who is trying to solve a practical problem, such as group morale, juvenile delinquency, or public health. In the following chapter we will present more extensive illustrations of social psychological theories and concepts that can be used in dealing with applied problems.
ROLES AND ACTIVITIES
Turning from the use of theories and other typical features of applied social psychology, let's consider the possible roles of people working in this field. We'll discuss them roughly in the order from traditional to newly developing roles and activities.
The traditional role of scientists has been to do research. In applied social psychology, at least as much
as in other scientific fields, many unanswered questions still require investigation. In addition to the collection of empirical data, there are several other aspects of the research role. Scientific scholarship often involves searching through many scattered sources in the literature in order to find relevant facts and hypotheses.
It may also involve culling these facts, integrating conflicting information, and building theories about the topic. An occasional aspect of the research role is serving as an expert witness before courts or legislative committees. All of these aspects of research will continue to be a key function of applied social psychologists.
Evaluation is another aspect of research, but it has been growing by leaps and bounds, and it merits separate discussion. Like other scientists, evaluation researchers frequently state hypotheses and collect and analyze systematic data to support or reject them. However, they have specialized topics of study—the success or failure of particular experimental interventions or social programs.
In the last 25 years, the laws or regulations initiating many government programs have mandated an
evaluation research component to help determine the program's success or failure. There has also been an increasing demand for evaluation of other kinds of programs, such as businesses' capital investment decisions. In these activities, there are important roles both for outside evaluators and for employees of the organization who function as inside evaluators. We will describe evaluation research in detail in Chapter 7.
Consultation and Change Agentry
Another kind of role for applied social psychologists is consultation with organizations, aimed at accomplishing desired changes in their operational methods or results. Often these organizations are businesses, or they may be civic organizations or government agencies.
Such organizations hire many different kinds of consultants—lawyers, financial advisors, and advertising agents—as well as applied social scientists, who can help them apply the theories and findings of psychology and sociology to their organizational goals and problems. Social science consultants operate under many different names: organization development (OD) specialists; management consultants; marketing, communications, public relations, job training, and personnel selection experts. If they try to apply social science principles, we will refer to them as social science consultants.
In a useful classificatory scheme, Hornstein (1975) described several types of consultants. Among the factors considered in his scheme were the kind of service the change agent provides to the client organization, the level in the organization at which the consultant works, and the kinds of targets the consultant tries to change (external relationships, internal organizational processes, or the personal functioning of individuals).
In addition to a first type of change agent (the "outside pressure" type), which we will discuss shortly, Hornstein distinguished the following basic types:
(2) the people change (PC) technology type who works to change individual functioning in organizations through such techniques as sensitivity training, behavior modification and need achievement training;
(3) the organization development (OD) type who works to improve a system's problem-solving capabilities by changing the norms and values regulating behavior; (4) the analysis for the top (AFT) type who works primarily with business and government units to improve efficiency and output and employs analytic procedures to develop expert advice. (1975, pp. 218-219)
Another role for applied social psychologists is to provide policy advice. The recipients may be either public, governmental agencies, or civic or business organizations of many different types. Hornstein's type-4 change agent actually fits best under the heading of a policy advisor. That is, such a person simply gives advice to organizational managers, rather than working in or on the organization to bring about change. Of course, policy advice must be based on a study of the particular organization or agency, as well as on application of general scientific principles and findings. But it does not involve direct attempts to change the organization's processes or personnel.
Policy science has become a popular term for the attempt to make findings from all the social sciences relevant to governmental and organizational policymaking. An influential book on this subject (Weiss, 1977b) gave examples of social science research bearing on policies for the public schools, judicial procedures, health care, congressional decisions, and State Department diplomacy. A particularly fascinating example of policy advice was a study in which Hammond and Adelman (1976), using research on human judgment, public opinion measurement techniques, and analysis of expert ballistic information, helped the city council of Denver decide what kind of bullets their police officers should be authorized to use.
In Chapter 17 of this book we will consider at length how successful social scientists have been in offering policy advice, how they can be more successful in the future, and what pitfalls and dangers there are for social scientists in giving policy advice.
Management of Organizations
Usually a social scientist's most influential role is offering advice to organizational managers. Occasionally, however, applied scientists become managers themselves. Particularly in this era of limited academic job possibilities, many more social scientists are taking jobs in business organizations or in government agencies, where they may eventually assume management responsibilities. In such situations, of course, they do not shed all their scientific knowledge and skills, and one hopes that they use their scientific background to perform relevant aspects of their job better than they could without that training.
Thus, though it is an unusual activity for social scientists, management is a legitimate role for them. A
few examples of psychologists who attained high government positions are: John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Johnson; Richard Atkinson, head of the National Science Foundation under President Carter and more recently president of the 9-campus University of California system; and clinical psychologist Leonard Haber, who was elected mayor of Miami Beach. Numerous social scientists have reached high positions in business and educational organizations, such as Judith Rodin, president of the University of Pennsylvania.
A particularly unusual example was Pat Carrigan, who became the first woman and the first psychologist to manage a General Motors auto assembly plant (Cordes, 1982b).
Whereas managers work on the inside of organizations, social activists typically try to influence them from outside. Though some social activists attempt to work from the inside to change organizations, that is usually a difficult (and often short-lived) position. A more typical kind of social activist is Homstein's (1975) first type of change agent:
(1) the outside pressure (OP) type who works to change systems from the outside through the application of pressure using such tactics as mass demonstration, civil disobedience, and violence. (p. 218)
There are also social activists who apply outside pressure through less extreme techniques such as legislative lobbying, media publicity, legal suits, grassroots organizing, and effective marshaling of research evidence to get organizations and government agencies to change their ways. An outstanding example of this sort is Ralph Nader, whose organization called Public Citizen has spawned other social action groups in the fields of consumer affairs, environmental protection, and health care. Nader himself, like many other activist group organizers, is a lawyer, but many of the staff members who work in his several organizations are applied scientists—some in research roles, and some in social activist roles. In Chapter 16 we will discuss the role of the social activist at length.
JUDITH RODIN, AN APPLIED PSYCHOLOGIST
The first woman to be named president of an ivy league university, Judith Rodin has headed the University of Pennsylvania since 1994. She earned her B.A. at that university and her Ph.D. in social psychology at Columbia under Stanley Schachter. She taught briefly at New York University before moving in 1972 to Yale, where she served successively as a psychology faculty member, department chair, dean, and provost.
Rodin's early research focused on the topic of obesity, and later expanded to many aspects of human health and behav ior. She has headed an international research network studying health and behavior and written over 200 articles and ten books, including the chapter on applied social psychology in the Handbook of Social Psychology and Body Traps, which examines the role of physical appearance in women's psychological health. She has been honored by election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, and has served on President Clinton's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.
IS SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY REALLY APPLICABLE?
In view of the impressive breadth of social psychological applications cited above, it may astonish you to learn that there has been controversy about whether social psychology can be or should be applied. We will sketch a few of the key issues and responses here.
Has Social Psychology Been Applied?
One aspect of the challenge to social psychology's applicability is the question of how much it has in fact
been applied. This question was examined in an early paper by Leo Meltzer (1972). At that time he noted that, though there was much potentially applicable research, relatively little of it had been used to design specific programs aimed at changing real-world problems. In order to include such programs in his list of successful applications, he also required that they had to be based on both well-established social psychological theory and clear empirical findings, and that theirresults must have been carefully evaluated. These were such stringent criteria that he found few studies which qualified. However, he concluded:
Much of the literature of traditional social psychology... is not only applicable to effecting changes in the real world, but has actually been effectively applied. The point is that there is a huge depository in our discipline's literature of applicable findings. The discipline has power. (Meltzer, 1972, p. 18)
Since that time, many more social psychological findings have moved from the potentially applicable status to actually being applied. Other authors have pointed out the wide range of areas in which social science knowledge has been effectively applied by businesses and government (e.g., Tornatzky et al., 1982).
The Applied Versus Theoretical Conflict
There seems to be something of an identity problem within the field, for relatively few psychologists identifies themselves primarily as applied psychologists, even if they are mainly doing applied work. In part, this may be due to the lower prestige which is often attached to applied work within the field, as compared to "basic" or theoretical work. In addition, it undoubtedly stems from divisions between the separate content areas of the field, for many applied psychologists identify themselves by the topic area in which they work—for example, as organizational, educational, consumer, or health psychologists.
The split between applied social psychology and basic or theoretical social psychology has received much attention. Morton Deutsch (1975) traced the split back to a conflict between two groups of Kurt Lewin's followers that erupted shortly before Lewin's death in
1947. The practitioners among Lewin's disciples concentrated on propagating new techniques for working with groups—called T-group methods, or sensitivity training—and they deemphasized empirical data collection. In contrast, the post-Lewinian researchers tended to retire to their laboratories and to give up work on important social problems. Though there were offsetting events, such as the 1936 founding of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) by socially involved researchers, including Lewin himself, the split between applied and research oriented social psychologists widened during the 1950s and 1960s.
This applied-theoretical split in social psychology has been lamented by many authors (e.g., Helmreich, 1975). More recently, there are some signs of greater integration of these two aspects of the field, for instance in large-scale multivariate research that captures more of the complexity of the natural world, and in the tendency for major researchers to work in both theoretical and applied areas.
Should Social Psychology Be Experimental?
As mentioned earlier, the dominant research approach in American social psychology, at least since the 1940s, was the laboratory experiment. Surveys of the literature in the 1960s and 1970s showed that between 70% and 90% of the studies published in major social psychological journals were laboratory experiments (Fried et al., 1973; Helmreich, 1975; Higbee & Wells, 1972). Applied social psychology research also included many experiments, though not as high a proportion. By the 1990s, only 35% of articles appearing in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology were laboratory experiments (Schultz & Butler, 1996). Alongside their advantages of precise measurement and control of variables, laboratory experiments have the serious disadvantages of artificiality, weak effects, and considering only a few variables at a time. These disadvantages have led some social psychologists to call for their deemphasis as a tool of our field, or even their abandonment.
Suggestions for how to replace the laboratory experiment have taken several forms. The first suggestion was to move out of the laboratory into the field, where theory-oriented experimental research could be conducted in "real-world" settings (e.g., Bickman & Henchy, 1972). Others recommended placing more reliance on large-scale, multivariate, correlational studies in place of experimental research (e.g., McGuire, 1973).
The most extreme suggestion has been to almost entirely abandon the experimental method (e.g., Silverman, 1977; Wallach & Wallach, 1994). Beyond the common criticisms of artificiality and triviality in laboratory experiments, these critics have pointed out serious problems in the kind of naturalistic field experiments that have been advocated by many social psychologists. Even in real-life situations, Silverman argued, for ethical reasons we can use only weak manipulations, for brief periods of time, and thus can study only trivial questions. He concluded that, from such studies: attempts to generalize to the issues that spawned the research are folly. The ongoing molar phenomena of social development and behavior are as unreachable for the psychologist by the experimental method as the movements of the planets are for the astronomer. And social psychology can only begin to grow into an authentic discipline when we abandon the experiment as a modus operandi. (Silverman, 1977, p. 356)
Certainly this is an extreme view, going further in its criticisms than would most social psychologists. Despite the admitted limitations of experiments, many psychologists still consider them the research method of choice, or at least a key part of the researcher's tool kit.
In this debate about the usefulness of experimental methods, this text adopts a middle position. The critics are correct in saying that laboratory experiments are often trivial and may not generalize to real-world situations, but the careful control and crucial comparisons of randomized experiments still provide the most dependable answers to scientific questions. Even "trivial and artificial" experiments can help to establish scientific principles of social behavior (Calder, Phillips, & Tybout, 1981; Schaller et al., 1995). And, particularly when they are large in scale and conducted in natural situations, experiments can overcome some of their usual limitations and give us useful and generalizable knowledge about real-world behavior. Yet experiments alone are not enough, for they are often impossible for practical or ethical reasons. Therefore, other research methods, such as quasi-experiments, correlational methods, descriptive observation, and archival data analysis, are also important scientific tools. We will consider examples of all of these techniques, together with their strengths and limitations, in Chapters 3 through 7.
Can Social Science Influence Public Policy?
A final question about social psychology's applicability is whether it can or does affect policy decisions,
even in situations where it has relevant knowledge to offer. Or, on the other hand, do personal, practical, political, or ethical considerations prevent the use of established social science knowledge in forming public policy, and if so, where and why? This important question should be kept in mind, but it would be premature to try to answer it at this point. We will consider it in detail in Chapter 17.
Other Responses Concerning Applicability
In addition to the above discussion of social psychology's applicability, let us look at some other viewpoints supporting the effort to make social psychology relevant to important social issues. An early proponent of this view was George Miller (1969) who, as president of the American Psychological Association, called for its members to "give psychology away" to all who could benefit from its knowledge and methods. Shortly thereafter, a large-scale survey of psychologists clearly demonstrated their beliefs that psychology could be applied constructively to the social problems of our society, but that too little had yet been done to achieve relevance (Lipsey, 1974). A recent survey of members and leaders of the American Psychological Association confirmed that applications of psychology are still considered to be among the most important issues for the profession (Oakland, 1994).
Another type of answer is to reverse the applicability challenge and assert that social psychology cannot not be applied. This answer highlights the universal tendency for social decision-makers, like all human beings, to act on what they think they know about human behavior. Though individuals' supposed knowledge may be incorrect or incomplete, they will use it in making decisions about policies or programs, hiring employees, planning social gatherings, or whatever. The resulting social actions are largely based on the "knowledge" of the time (for instance, that the world is flat, or that frustration leads to aggression). As one example, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly cited social science knowledge in its 1954 decision requiring desegregation of public schools, but in 1896 it had also relied on the purported "knowledge" of the time—that Black Americans were socially inferior to Whites—in its separate-but-equal-facilities decision in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.
The point of this argument is that, whether social psychologists try to apply their science or not, many of their findings will inevitably be disseminated (perhaps in distorted forms) by the popular media and used in one way or another by people who have heard of them.
Many social psychologists have concluded that, since research knowledge will often be used in some form by social planners and practitioners, social scientists should take an active part in disseminating their findings and trying to direct their application in relevant areas of social life (e.g., Shippee, 1979).
Though the major journals in social psychology continue to publish mostly theoretically oriented laboratory research, many other journals feature applied research in their special fields, such as community psychology, law and criminal justice, or health psychology. Also, the traditional federal agencies that provide research funds have become more receptive to applied research projects, and many single-mission agencies such as the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) have been established, which provide support for a wide variety of applied social research. Finally, a number of graduate schools have developed programs that emphasize applied aspects of social psychology, and their graduates are increasingly finding jobs in nontraditional positions in community agencies, contract research firms, industrial companies, or government organizations.
PROBLEMS FOR APPLIED SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Many problems are implicit in the typical features and roles of applied social psychology. Here we will discuss the following major areas of potential problems in the field: the research evidence, the generalizability of the evidence, unintended consequences, and ethical questions.
What Is the Evidence?
A key problem in applying any science is to assess the available scientific knowledge. It is not enough to have theories, for there must be firm supportive evidence that the theories are correct before we can feel safe in using them to build a bridge or design a social program. We need to ask: What studies have been done? What did they show? How were the data obtained? Unfortunately, methods used in the social sciences sometimes are not appropriate to support the conclusions drawn, and in other cases the methods are appropriate but not powerful enough to produce an effect. If the methods are acceptable, we should ask: How strong are the results? Are the effects large enough to be of practical importance as well as being statistically significant? If so, we have satisfied the criterion of internal validity of the research (Campbell & Stanley, 1966; Cook & Shadish, 1994).
Is the Evidence Generalizable?
The next question, and a major problem for applied social science, is the external validity or generalizability of the research findings. If research findings are to be applied, we must know under what circumstances the findings will hold true and what other circumstances will produce different results. In this regard the extremely artificial conditions in many laboratory experiments may limit the generalizability of their findings to other situations (though the extent to which they do is an empirical question).
In engineering, the physical principles that apply to building a bridge in one nation apply equally to building a bridge somewhere else. But this is often not the case in social science. Some social psychological principles are applicable in most nations or cultures, but other findings are limited to the culture, subculture, or setting in which they were obtained (Heller, 1990). For instance, the effect of an absent father on children's development may be very different in a cultural milieu featuring strong extended family networks (such as many Black and Hispanic groups) than in subcultures where the nuclear family has no such support networks. Clearly, a social program to compensate for absent fathers would have different implications and chances of success in these two cultural settings.
In addition to cultural patterns, individual personal characteristics and task demands often produce research findings that are not broadly generalizable. A prominent example is in research on jury decision making. Much of this research has used "mock juries" composed of college students, who had about half an hour to read a written summary of a trial transcript and then gave their individual vote on the defendant's guilt or innocence, without any group discussion or deliberation. Obviously, there are so many differences between this situation and the typical courtroom trial that there is no way of knowing whether such research results will apply to real-life trial situations or not. Fortunately, some investigators have been sensitive to these limitations and have devised various methods to increase or at least check the generality of their jury research findings. We will discuss this topic at greater length in Chapter 15, which deals with legal issues.
Even if research is internally valid and is applicable to the social situation in which intervention is planned, unintended consequences of the intervention may arise. One notable case of this sort was a study in which aged residents of retirement homes were visited on various schedules by college students. After the study was completed and the visits ceased, the groups of oldsters who had initially benefited from the visits exhibited "precipitous declines" in their mental and physical health (Schulz & Hanusa, 1978).
Another example of unintended consequences stemming from social programs is seen in various crime-control programs which have been successful in decreasing crime rates in one locality, while apparently raising crime rates in surrounding communities by driving many criminals there. On the other hand, the intended consequences of interventions are not always evident without careful research. For example, some crime-control or educational-improvement programs may seem to have little success, whereas comparison of their results with appropriate control groups would show that the apparent small improvement was distinctly better than the worsening conditions in other communities (cf. Lipsey & Wilson, 1993).
HERBERT KELMAN, SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY'S CONSCIENCE
Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1927, Herbert Kelman fled there with his family in 1939 to escape Nazi persecution. After a year as a refugee in Belgium, he arrived in the United States, and by 1947 he had earned two bachelor's degrees. He completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at Yale in 1951 and then did full-time research for several years. After five years on the Harvard University faculty, he moved to the University of Michigan, but returned to Harvard in 1968 as the holder of an endowed chair in social ethics.
The major themes of Kelman's research and writing have been international relations, conflict resolution and peace research, and ethics in social science research. He helped found the Journal of Conflict Resolution, edited a research volume on International Behavior, and has been intensely involved in programs of action research applying conflict resolution principles to workshops bringing together Arab and Israeli intellectual and governmental leaders. In the area of ethics, he has written or coauthored several volumes on human values and social research, obedience to authority, and The Ethics of Social Intervention. Among his many honors, Kelman has been elected president of two divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA), and six other psychological organizations, including the Peace Science Society, the Interamerican Society of Psychology, and the International Society of Political Psychology. He has also received the Kurt Lewin Award, the APA award for Psychology in the Public Interest, and the SocioPsychological Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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The problem of unintended consequences often goes unnoticed because, if evaluation research is done at all, it is usually limited to the research participants or, at most, to the community in which the research was carried out. This fact highlights the importance, not only of appropriate control groups and research designs, but also of an even broader systems approach to understanding the effects of social programs. Social interventions are not discrete, isolated programs; they are embedded in a whole social system of related events and processes. As such, they are bound to have some consequences beyond their stated goals and target populations, and applied social scientists need to recognize and consider these possible unplanned effects.
The unintended consequences of social programs or research activities raise ethical issues. But beyond the problem of unintended consequences, many ethical issues can arise in applied social science, and applied scientists need to be constantly alert to avoid them if possible or, if not, at least to minimize their impact.
Unfortunately, the solutions to ethical issues are usually not clear-cut because they often involve conflicting. values and differing perceptions—for instance, what social situations are serious enough to constitute a "social problem"?
A fundamental question at the outset of any applied project is whether or not to intervene in the given social situation. The issue is not just a pragmatic one of whether we have useful methods or knowledge, but also an ethical one of whether they should be used. If we decide to participate in the project, then we will have to be ready for a later decision about when and how to terminate the intervention. "Intervention entails both taking responsibility and letting go of it" (Mayo & La France, 1980, p. 91).
There are many different ways to intervene in a social system, and they have differing ethical implications. Kelman and Warwick (1978) suggested a useful typology of kinds of interventions, based on the amount of power or control left in the hands of the people affected by the proposed social program. Its categories range from coercion, through manipulation and persuasion, to facilitation of others' own goals.
It is important to consider the ethics of intervention in each specific social situation that arises. A thoughtful volume on this topic, edited by Bermant, Kelman, and Warwick (1978), discussed ethics in a wide range of social interventions, including behavior modification, encounter groups, organization development programs, community education programs, community disputes, income maintenance experiments, federally funded housing programs, and family planning programs. Other papers or books have suggested ethical standards for human research in general (Kimmel, 1988; Sieber, 1992), for organizational research (Mirvis & Seashore, 1979), evaluation research (Newman & Brown, 1996; Shadish et al., 1995), community research with street people (Sieber & Sorensen, 1992), and psychological intervention in the criminal justice system (Monahan, 1980).
Though many of the above areas are relatively new ones, general ethical guidelines can be applied. The American Psychological Association has had a strong ethical code ever since 1953, and it has been updated every few years to include new concerns and developing areas of research and practice. For applicable formulations, see publications by the American Psychological Association (1982, 1992) and Box 1-4. A volume edited by Bersoff (1995) has elaborated on many specific topics of ethical concern. However, there are still numerous unresolved ethical issues in applied scientific work, especially in the newly developing field of policy science, which we will discuss in Chapter 17.
Starting in the mid-1960s, various branches of the federal government adopted ethical regulations to control research and experimental treatment programs with human participants (e.g., U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1971). These regulations were proposed and adopted mainly because of concerns over biomedical research done without adequate safeguards to protect research subjects from possible harmful effects—for example, injection of senile patients with live cancer cells for research purposes, without their understanding what was being done.
Though the government ethical regulations also apply to psychological research, in most cases the potential risks of such studies are minimal compared to medical research with new drugs and unproved procedures.
That fact was officially recognized in 1981, when the federal regulations governing psychological research were greatly simplified and redirected toward the few studies that do carry potential risks for the participants (Fields, 1981).
EXAMPLES OF ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR PSYCHOLOGISTS
The following are very brief extracts from the latest revision of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists (American Psychological Association, 1992). In the complete document each of these general principles is elaborated, and they are followed by eight sections on ethical standards, including over 100 subsections stating specific ethical responsibilities -(e.g., avoiding harm, explaining assessment results, avoiding false statements, avoiding sexual intimacies, maintaining confidentiality, accuracy in teaching, compliance with law, reporting ethical violations).
Preamble. Psychologists work to develop a valid and reli able body of scientific knowledge based on research. . .and where appropriate, to apply it pragmatically to improve the condition of both the individual and society. . . .Psychologists dents, respect and protect human and civil rights and do not knowingly participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices.
A. Competence. Psychologists strive to maintain high standards of competence in their work. They recognize the boundaries of their particular competencies and the limitations of their expertise. They provide only those services and use only those techniques for which they are qualified by education, training, or experience.
B. Integrity. Psychologists seek to promote integrity in the science, teaching, and practice of psychology. . . .In describing or reporting their qualifications, services, products, fees, research, or teaching, they do not make statements that are false, misleading, or deceptive. . . .Psychologists avoid improper and potentially harmful dual relationships.
C. Professional and Scientific Responsibility.
Psychologists uphold professional and scientific standards of conduct, clarify their professional roles and obligations, accept appropriate responsibility for their behavior, and adapt their methods to the needs of different populations.
D. Respect for People's Rights and Dignity. Psychologists accord appropriate respect to the fundamental rights, dignity, and worth of all people. They respect the rights of people to privacy, confidentiality, self-determination, and autonomy. .
E. Concern for Others' Welfare. Psychologists seek to contribute to the welfare of those with whom they interact, professionally. In their professional actions, psychologists weigh the welfare and rights of their patients or clients, student supervisees, human research participants, and other affected persons, and the welfare of animal subjects of research. . . .they do not exploit or mislead other people during or after professional relationships.
F. Social Responsibility. Psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live. They apply and make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human welfare. Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of human suffering. When undertaking research, they strive to advance human welfare and the science of psychology. Psychologists try to avoid misuse of their work.
Source: American Psychological Association, 1992. Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Copyright 0 1992 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted with permission
Regardless of what the federal regulations may be, applied scientists should feel ethically accountable for their activities. That means that there must be some basic ultimate standard for deciding what activities are acceptable. What might such an ethical guideline be?
One common suggestion has been the welfare of the client (individuals or groups). But is that a sufficient guideline? Questions such as the following have been raised about it (Deutsch, 1975, p. 10):
· Does a social psychologist have any moral responsibilities with respect to how a client uses research information the psychologist has collected?
· Should a psychologist allow a client's public distortion of research findings to go unchallenged?
· Should a client be allowed to use research information to influence third parties without their consent (e.g., to influence voters, consumers, or employees)?
Similar questions have been raised about how to handle situations when organizations misuse information or resist social interventions (Ballard, Brosz, & Parker, 1980). Deutsch (1975) has answered these questions by proposing that the ultimate standard should not be the welfare of the client (though that is important), but the general well-being of humankind.
That seems an excellent standard to keep in mind, though of course applying it may be a complex and difficult process.
Unfortunately, in many cases applied social science has failed to follow the guideline of the welfare of humankind. For example, we tend to define social problems in terms of the behavior of individual people, rather than focusing on the environmental situations that help to produce and maintain that behavior. This person-centered approach often leads us to "blame the victims" (e.g., of racism or poverty) for their own misfortunes (Dressel, Carter, & Balachandran, 1995; Herbert & Dunkel-Schetter, 1992).
Specific Ethical Precepts. The various ethical codes that have been developed are in relative agreement on a number of specific precepts that applied social scientists should observe. There is not enough space here to discuss them, but we will list the major points, together with useful references for further reading.
· Social scientists should avoid harmful consequences to research participants or clients (Warwick, 1982).
· All research participants should be told enough about the research and its likely impact on them so that they can give meaningful informed consent to participate (Murray, 1982).
· Clients and research subjects should not undergo any unusual invasion of privacy (Kelman, 1977; Murray, 1982).
· Any proposed deception of clients or research participants should be strictly reviewed by ethics committees before it is carried out, and it should be limited to cases where it is essential to the accomplishment of a highly desirable goal (Christensen, 1988; Elms, 1982).
Research participants should be debriefed soon after the research is completed in order to remove any deception, inform them about the research, and allay any remaining anxieties (cf. Christensen, 1988; Aronson, Brewer, & Carlsmith, 1985).
In later chapters on specific content areas, we will consider further the ethical issues that are prominent in each area.
The many fascinating examples of the application of social psychology to practical problems range from individual concerns, such as conquering shyness, through group and organizational problems, to issues of governmental policy. A suggested broad-gauge definition of applied social psychology is: applications of social psychological methods, theories, principles, or research findings to understanding or solution of social problems. Applied work can contribute usefully to fundamental psychological theories, principles, and methods, as well as the other way around. This text organizes its coverage of the field of applied social psychology into various content areas, such as the environment, health, and legal issues; and it also emphasizes the important uses and the limitations of the major types of social psychological research methods.
Applied social psychology differs from other fields of psychology in several key ways. It typically starts with a concern for a particular social problem, and this starting point makes explicit its value orientation toward improving people's quality of life. It aims to have social utility and to adopt a broad, comprehensive approach to social problems. Most of its work is done in natural field settings, and it has to be especially concerned about the strength and generality of its findings as well as considerations of benefit-to-cost ratios and political feasibility. Theories are useful in applied work, just as in basic science, to help explain, predict, and influence the events and variables of interest.
Six different roles can be performed by various individuals working as applied social psychologists. The most traditional is the role of researcher. Recently developing roles are evaluator of social programs, organizational consultant or change agent, and-policy advisor to administrators or legislators. Rarer social scientist roles include organizational manager and social activist.
Debates over the applicability of social psychology to resolving social problems largely stem from the unfortunate split between the applied and theoretical sides of the field, and also from the limitations of tightly controlled laboratory experiments. In one sense it is impossible for individuals and groups nor to apply whatever social science "knowledge" (either correct or incorrect) they possess. However, many social psychologists favor more active efforts to apply their discipline and increase its relevance to society.
Among the major potential problem areas in this field are: the adequacy of research methods and findings, the generalizabiliry of the evidence to other settings and individuals, and the unintended consequences of social interventions. There are also ethical issues involving theexercise of power over other people and decisions about when and how to intervene in social situations and when and how to stop. Though our goal should be the wellbeing of humankind in general, there are unfortunate examples where some applied social scientists have failed to follow that standard or to adhere to the commonly accepted ethical precepts of the field.
Bermant, G., Kelman, H. C., & Warwick, D. P. (Eds.). (1978). The ethics of social intervention. Washington, DC: Hemisphere.—An excellent discussion of ethics in many different areas, including behavior modification, organization development, and income maintenance experiments.
Helmreich, R. (1975). Applied social psychology: The unfulfilled promise. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1, 548-560.---An influential article that raised several crucial questions about the field.
Levy-Leboyer, C. (1988). Success and failure in applying psychology. American Psychologist, 43, 779-785.—Good examples of the work of an applied social psychologist.
Sieber, J. E. (1992). Planning ethically responsible research: A guide for students and internal review boards.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.—Practically oriented advice for avoiding ethical problems in all aspects of research.Weiss, C. H. (Ed.). (1977). Using social research in public policy making. Lexington, MA: Lexington.—Focuses on the policy advice role of applied social scientists, in areas as varied as health care, school desegregation, the judicial system, and foreign policy.