Applying Social Psychology

Applying Social Psychology
From Problems to Solutions

Abraham (Bram) P. Buunk has been since 2005 Academy Professor in Evolutionary Social Psychology at the University of Groningen on behalf of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. His main current interest is the application of evolution­ary theorizing to human social behaviour. He has published widely on applied topics, including professional burnout, jealousy, absenteeism, AIDS-prevention, loneliness, depression, marital satisfaction, well-being among the elderly, and coping with cancer. He was a co-editor of Health, coping and well-being: Perspectives from social compar­ison theory (Erlbaum, 1997), and Solidarity and Prosocial Behaviour (Springer, 2006). He has served on scientific boards for the Dutch Cancer Foundation (NKB-KWF), and the Dutch AIDS Foundation. Currently he is a member of the Programme Committee on Evolution and Behaviour of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).
Mark Van Vugt is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent at Canterbury. He did his undergraduate degree at the University of Groningen and his PhD at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. He has published widely on topics in social and applied psychology, including leadership, social dilemmas, altruism and cooperation, social identity, environmental conservation, transport and water man­agement. He is the chief editor of Cooperation in modern society: Promoting the wel­fare of communities, states, and organizations (Routledge, 2000). He is a fellow of the British Academy and sits on the editorial board of several journals in social psychology.

One of the wonderful experiences in life is that of having a problem and calling an expert, who walks in, takes a look, makes reassuring noises, goes to work and hey presto, your central heating system starts spreading comfort and happiness again. When I returned to academia after a stint as management consultant I realized looking back that I might have fallen somewhat short in providing clients with these wonderful experiences.
Reflecting on what I had actually been using of the knowledge and tools acquired during my training as a social psychologist, I realized that the tools had come in handy but that the application of knowledge/theories hardly figured prominently. I was well equipped to interview people, construct questionnaires and surveys and arrive at an ade­quate analysis of problems. Yet when it came to providing solutions it seemed I had been mainly relying on common sense combined with the usual role of process consul­tant. This is a bit like your central heating engineer presenting you with, admittedly, a fine diagnosis of the problem and then offering to hold your hand while you wrestle with finding a way of getting the system to deliver some heat again.
People, groups and organizations are obviously much more complex than the simple systems that keep the house operating: all the more reason to train future practitioners in using the theories and accumulated bodies of knowledge available. Extensive screen­ing of the literature at the time did not throw up the desired textbook/training manual. So I started out developing my own course, which after the usual evolutionary devel­opments has now taken shape as the PATH (Problem-Analysis-Test-Help) model presented in this book.
At first sight this model looks the same as every other problem-solving course. The essential differences the PATH model introduces are twofold:
1. from the very beginning it stresses using theories (plural) that might help to define and delineate the problem and, in the problem-solving phase suggests solutions that consequently have a solid foundation in theory and research; 2. in finding solutions, it examines factors that have a realistic chance of being changed.
In addition to making better use of the available knowledge, the PATH model has the happy side-effect that practising social psychologists are better protected against confusing themselves or their clients.
When in later life I was in charge of a large organization, using consultants from time to time, I was often struck by the difference between the business school alumni and social/organizational psychologists. The first category were strong on analysis and practical solutions they claimed had worked for others. The psychologists were strong

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on analysis and nearly always flavoured their solutions with a whiff of how things ought to be. Both groups succeeded in keeping any reference to research and theory well out of sight. This is actually good practice in an applied setting: the average manager/ client does not always want to be bothered with academic trivia.
Unfortunately, I am pretty confident that empirically-based theories only played a marginal role for both business school alumni and social/organizational psychologists. In essence this means that contributions from both disciplines do not reach beyond common sense supported by analytical tools. Particularly for the applied social psy­chologist this is a missed opportunity, as there is a wealth of theoretical/empirical mate­rial available through the average textbook. It just needs to be applied. This book sets out a methodology and discipline on how to do this.
When students learn to see the usefulness of the textbook materials and apply them systematically, this will not only improve the craft of the applied psychologist and make for happier clients, it will also contribute immensely to the relevance of the text and the motivation and satisfaction of the students.
Dr Peter Veen, 2007

This is the first edition of Applying Social Psychology. The authors recognize the value of including certain learning tools to foster the experience of using a textbook for both students and teachers. Accordingly, the authors have decided to incorporate a range of features to illustrate the PATH method and make the book more user-friendly. Many of these features have arisen from feedback on courses in applied social psychology that we and others have taught over the years. We trust that these features will strike a chord with the readers and users of this text. The authors would like to thank Pieternel Dijkstra for help in preparing these features as well as for editorial assistance.
Key features in the textbook include the following:
1.    Further readings
If you want to find out more about the social psychological theories and research presented,
we recommend a list of key readings in applied social psychology at the end of each chapter.
2.    Assignments
Each core chapter contains various assignments that enable students to practise applying social psychology to a diverse range of real-world problems. Each assignment focuses on a particular step in the PATH method. These assignments can be used by teachers to monitor and evaluate student progress or by the students themselves to monitor their own progress in the course.
3.    Summaries
At the end of each chapter a chapter summary is provided. These summarize the sequence of steps within that particular phase of the PATH method.
4.    Figures and tables
The text contains numerous tables and figures to support information in the text.
5.    Updated research programmes
This text contains a diversity of examples of key up-to-date research programmes in applied social psychology to illustrate the various aspects of the PATH method. We discuss research examples from around the world on a wide range of different social problems.
6.    Text boxes
The book contains several text boxes in which well-known social psychologists around the globe discuss why they got interested in applied social psychology and give examples of their applied research programmes.
7.    Tests, measurements and instruments
The text contains various examples of standard tests and measurement scales that are frequently used in applied social psychology. Examples are the self-esteem scale and the SYMLOG group observation instrument.

xiv Applying Social Psychology
8.     Glossary of key social psychological theories and concepts
For best use of the text, we have identified a list of key social psychological theories and
concepts and provide brief summaries of these in text boxes. It is advisable to use a core
introductory text in social psychology for further details about theories and relevant research.
9.     Case studies
Each core chapter contains an example of research into a particular applied social psychol­ogy topic. This example serves as an illustration of how to conduct applied social psychology research.

Social psychology is not only a basic social science that studies the nature and determinants of human social behaviour. Social psychology is also an applied discipline of utmost relevance for all kinds of societal problems and issues. Social psychological theories and concepts are frequently used in a wide range of scientific disciplines such as environmental science, movement science, marketing, leisure science, business and management science, preventive medicine, social geography and gerontology, as well as in various subdisciplines of psychology such as clinical, environmental, health, industrial and organizational psychology.
Yet it seems that social psychologists themselves are not always aware of the practi­cal value of their discipline. Most social psychological journals devote relatively little space to applied social psychology. Many traditional applied social psychology topics like aggression, conflict and cooperation in groups, leadership, obedience and helping have either completely disappeared from the literature or they are addressed in the literatures of other disciplines.
We are concerned about this development. Both of us have extensive experience with basic as well as applied social psychology research in a variety of social domains. Based on our own experiences, we believe that social psychology is uniquely placed to combine good theory-driven research with practical relevance. That is basically what Kurt Lewin, the founding father of modern social psychology, envisaged in the 1940s about the development of our discipline. It implies that social psychological processes should not just be studied in the lab, but also in a variety of field settings and with other populations than undergraduate students. It also implies that social psychologists should be interested in (and concerned about) how their findings might contribute to the solution of societal problems.
One major obstacle is that social problems often appear overwhelmingly complex and therefore it may not always be easy to see precisely how social psychology can con­tribute to their solution. Furthermore, all practical problems are unique in a way, and even if there is a lot of applied research in one specific area, these findings may not necessarily generalize to other domains.
This text presents a novel methodology for applying social psychology to practical social issues and developing an intervention programme. We refer to it as the PATH methodology. PATH is an acronym for the four essential steps in the model — problem,

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analysis, test (of model), and help. Each of the chapters in the book discusses one step of the PATH model.
We owe much to the pioneering work done by Peter Veen, who first published a text in the Dutch language in the 1980s with a new method for doing applied social psychol­ogy. Many generations of psychology students at Dutch universities were trained in the `Method Veen'. To acknowledge this legacy, we have asked Veen to write the preface to this book. A completely new version of Veen's book was published in Dutch in 1995 by Abraham Buunk and Peter Veen. Although the present text is heavily inspired by these previous books, it is basically a new text and the first to appear in English with examples of applied social psychology research programmes from around the world.
We hope that our book will inspire many new generations of students across the world in doing social psychology and give them the necessary tools for applying social psychology to pressing social issues. There is much work to be done!

Abraham P Buunk, Groningen, 2007 Mark Van Vugt, Canterbury, 2007


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