Social Psychologists or Psychological Sociologists — Which?

Steuart Henderson Britt
The George Washington University

ONE biologist may have received his training primarily in botany, whereas a second biologist may have received his training primarily in zoölogy. Should the two biologists fail to recognize the significance of each other's work, we might suspect one or both of ignorance, or of jealousy, or of intolerance. Should whole groups of biologists fail to recognize the significance of each other's work because the research of one group was primarily botanical in character, whereas the other's research was primarily zoölogical, our suspicions of ignorance, or of jealousy, or of intolerance would tend to be confirmed.

One social psychologist may have received his training primarily in sociology, whereas a second social psychologist may have received his training primarily in psychology. Should the two social psychologists, and even whole groups of social psychologists, fail to recognize the significance of each other's research because it was mainly "sociological" or mainly "psychological," other people might suspect them of ignorance, or of jealousy, or of intolerance. But, oddly enough, many social psychologists would not suspect themselves of any of these things.

That social psychologists are divided into two separate camps, each camp with little knowledge of the work of the other, is demonstrated by three current situations: (1) the division of social psychologists as to membership in the American Sociological Society, and the American Psychological Association; (2) the divided sessions of the two groups on problems of Social Psychology; (3) their divergent reading and research habits.

(1) Of 1,055 members of the American Sociological Society, 214 (20.3 per cent) specifically indicate an interest in Social Psychology, and an additional 45 (4.3 per cent) indicate Social Psychology as one of their leading interests.[2] This makes a total of

( 315) at least 259 (24.6 per cent) members definitely interested in Social Psychology.[3]

The American Psychological Association is made up of two classes of persons: Members, of whole there are 587, and Associates, of whom there are 1,551, making a total of 2,138.[4] Table I is a division of Members and of Associates according to instruction and research in Social Psychology.[5]

Table 1: Members and Associates of the American Psychological Association (1937) Engaged in Instruction, or In Research, or in Both Instruction and Research, in Social Psychology
but not
but not
Instruction and
Total in
and Both
Total No. of
Persons in
Members 46.[6] 74 [7] 28.[8] 148 587
Per cent of total members 7.8 12.6 4.8 25.2 100
Associates 94.[9] 188.[10] 40.[11] 322 1551
Per cent of total associate 6.1 12.1 2.6 20.8 100
Members and associates 140 262 68 470 2138
Per cent of total members and associates 6.5 12 3.2 22.0 100

This table indicates that the total number, and percentage, of Members and Associates of the American Psychological Association engaged in instruction, or in research, or in both instruction and research, in Social Psychology is: 148 Members, 25.2 per cent of all Members; 322 Associates, 20.8 per cent of all Associates 470 Members and Associates, 22.0 per cent of all Members and Associates. Added to the 259 members of the American Sociological Society with a specific interest in Social Psychology, this makes a total of 729 persons enrolled in the two societies who are "socio-psychologically" inclined.

How many of these 729 persons would one expect to be enrolled in both the American Sociological Society and the American Psy-

( 316) -chological Association? And how many actually do have membership in both groups? The answer to the latter question is-only 19. These 19 persons represent only 7.3 per cent of the 259 "social psychologists" of the A.S.S., only 4.0 per cent of the 470 "social psychologists'' of the A.P.A., and only 2.6 per cent of the total 729 "social psychologists" belonging to the two associations ! [12]

(2) The lack of mutuality of interests of the two groups is further illustrated by the two sessions on problems of Social Psychology held separately in 1936, one by the A.P.A., the other by the A.S.S. On September 2, 1936, a round table on "The Subject platter and Methods of Social Psychology" was held by a group of social psychologists at the 44th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association at Hanover, New Hampshire. The program follows : [13]

I. Introduction: The Hanover Round Table and Social Psychology of 1936. Floyd II. Allport.
II. Past and Present Trends in the Methods and Subject Matter of Social Psychology. Steuart Henderson Britt.
III. The Role of Individual Psychological Differences in Social Psychology. Catharine Cox Miles.
IV. Personality and Social Adjustments. Gardner Murphy.
V. The Observation of Children's Behaviors as a Method in Social Psychology. Florence L. Goodenough.
VI. Attitude Measurement as a Method in Social Psychology. Daniel Katz. VII. The Field Theoretical Approach in Social Psychology. J. F. Brown.
VIII. The Observation of Societal Behaviors of Individuals. Floyd II. Allport. IX. The Comparative Approach to Social Behavior. A. H. Maslow.
X. The Need and Opportunity for Experiment in Social Psychology. J. F. Dashiell.
XI. Administrative and Professional vocations as Fields for Social Psychology. Edward S. Robinson.
XIl. The Effect of Modern Technology and Organization Upon Behavior. Hadley Cantril.

On December 29, 1936, the ".Division on Social Psychology" met at the 31st annual meeting of the American Sociological Society at Chicago. The program follows : [14]

Chairman. Read Bain.
Practical Applications of Social Psychology. Emory S. Bogardus.
Discussion. Goodwin B. Watson.


Social and Emotional Adjustments of Freshman at The University of Wisconsin. Kimball Young.
Discussion. Mandel Sherman.
Reactions to Predictive Assumptions. T. D. Eliot.
Discussion. Richard J. Van Tassel.

Is there a single topic on these two separate programs which could not be capably discussed by both sociologists and psychologists? Is there a single topic which could not be discussed with much greater profit by having representatives from both groups meet together? This does not imply that the two groups of social psychologists would give the same material, for each would have a different point of view; but it does imply that the problems which confront the two groups are of the same kind and deserve serious consideration by both. If 259 sociologists are interested in Social Psychology (often, for them, Social Psychology), and if 470 psychologists are interested in Social Psychology (often, for them, Social Psychology), would it not be desirable for these 729 persons to meet together as a unified group of social psychologists?

(3) There is also something of a division of social psychologists according to their reading and research habits. There is no precise way to estimate the extent of this division. That such a difference exists is indicated, however, by discussions with various sociologists and psychologists, and by a study of the writings of each group. There is apparently a tendency for "sociology" social psychologists to be much more familiar with such journals as the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, the Journal of Educational Sociology, Social Forces, and Sociology and Social Research, than with the publications which are read more by "psychology" social psychologists. Similarly, these "psychology" social psychologists seem to be much more familiar with the American Journal of Psychology, the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, the Journal of General Psychology, the Journal of Social Psychology, the Psychological, Bulletin, the Psychological Review, than with such journals as those above.

Both sociological writers and psychological writers in the field of Social Psychology have been guilty of many omissions as to references to each other's work. As to these omissions by psychological writers, Professor Bernard say-s : "I formerly - believed that they were due to a sort of intellectual and laboratory snobbishness on the part of the psychologists-and in some cases they may be but I now believe that they are usually the result of an

(318) inadequate knowledge of the whole field of social psychology."[15] Bernard is right as to the fault of psychologists in this respect, but one must also recognize that many sociologists have similarly erred in the omission of psychological materials from their writings.

The situation which exists today is one of lack of understanding, and sometimes even jealousy, between the two groups. Either the two groups are blind as to each other's achievements, or else so sufficiently blind-folded that they engage in a good deal of verbal shadow-boxing with each other. "Word" arguments sometimes interfere with empirical investigations. "I do not decry the importance of sound historical orientation, and a comparison of points of view; but I say that so much time has been spent in arguments between various `schools' of thought that entirely too little time has been devoted to systematic experimentation and observation. We may get so lost in `battles of words' that investigators in other fields may justly accuse us of sterility, or, worse still, of describing the obvious.” [16]

The field of investigation between Sociology and Psychology has been dubbed "Social Psychology" perhaps because "Social" is a more convenient adjective than ''Psychological." Would it really make any difference if the word order were reversed and the field were called "Psychological Sociology"?[17] Surely the time leas come for the two groups of social psychologists to form a unified front to attack their mutual problems. Differences in points of view should not prevent coördination of interests and activities.

Why not a united group a "Society of Social Psychologists"? [18]


  1. Because of its significance for social psychologists working both within the field of sociology and that of psychology, this article is published (by special arrangement with the editors) simultaneously in the American Sociological Review and in this JOURNAL.
  2. American Sociological Society, Membership List for 1937.
  3. The number is undoubtedly somewhat greater, as a large number of the membership do not list any separate and specific interests, and yet at least some of these have a genuine interest in Social Psychology. (For example, cf. footnote 11 below.)
  4. American Psychological Association, Year Book, 1937.
  5. The data in Table I were collected from this same source.
  6. Includes I Member engaged in instruction in Social Psychiatry. s Includes 1 Member engaged in research in Social Psychiatry.
  7. Includes 1 Member engaged in instruction in Social Work and Social Statistics, and in research in Social Work.
  8. Includes 1 Associate engaged in instruction in Sociology.
  9. Includes 2 Associates engaged in research in Sociology.
  10. Includes 1 Associate engaged both in instruction and in research in Sociology.
  11. According to the classification of the American Sociological Society of these 19 persons, 6 are specifically interested in Social Psychology, 4 have Social Psychology as a leading interest, and 9 do not list any separate interests.
  12. According to the classification of the American Psychological Association of these 19 persons, 8 are Members, and 12 are Associates: 1 is engaged in instruction, but not research, in social Psychology (actually, Social Psychiatry) ; 5 are engaged in research, but not instruction, in Social Psychology (1 of these in Social Psychiatry) ; 8 are engaged both in instruction and in research in Social Psychology (1 of these in Sociology) ; and 5 are not' classified as engaged either in instruction or in research in Social Psychology.
  13. The symposium was published in this order in Social Forces, 1937, 15, 455-495.
  14. Adapted from Amer. Social. Rev., 1936, 1, 960-966, esp. 963.
  15. Bernard, L. L., Book Review of Gurnee, Herbert, Elements of social psychology, Amer. Social. Rev., 1936, 1, 830.
  16. Britt, S. A., Past and present trends in the methods and subject matter of social psychology, Social Forces, 1937, 15, 463.
  17. Professor Bernard believes " . . that the psychologists have gained administrative control of social psychology in many universities mainly because 'social' is an adjective and `psychology' is a noun.     '' Bernard, L. L., loc. cit., 829.
  18. The "Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues" ("SPSSI"), formed at the 1936 meeting of the American Psychological Association, does not meet the needs of a "Society of Social Psychologists," because of its psychological one-sidedness. This is the very type of emphasis to which the writer is objecting. The emphasis on psychology is shown in at least five ways: (1) The title of the SPSSI stresses "Psychological Study." (Incidentally, what a title, psychologically!) (2) The Society was formed and sponsored entirely by psychologists. (3) Its charter was adopted at a meeting of psychologists. (4) Its officers and council members have been psychologists. (5) Art. III, Sec. II, of the By-Laws reads: "Membership in the Society is limited to members and associates of the A P.A. [italics ours] and such social scientists and members of related learned societies as promise to aid the Society in attaining its objectives." (Quoted from S.P.S.S.I. Bull., May, 1937, 1, No. 3, p. 5.)

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