Social Psychologists and Social Psychology

Steuart Henderson Britt
Department of Psychology, The George Washington University

In an article, "Social Psychologists or Psychological Sociologists—Which?", published by the present writer (1) simultaneously in the December, 1937, issues of the American Sociological Review, and of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, he pointed out that at least 259 sociologists and at least 470 psychologists have a definite interest in social psychology. This is indicated by the listing of interests by sociologists in the 1937 membership list of the American Sociological Society, and by the listing of instruction and research by psychologists in the 1937 yearbook of the American Psychological Association respectively. Yet these 729 "social psychologists" are divided in their membership in these two societies (only 2.6 per cent belonging to both associations), in their attendance at their scholarly sessions, and in their reading and research habits.

Offprints of the above article were mailed on April 6, 1938, to all 729 of these social psychologists, with the following question written across the top: "Will you write me what you think of forming a Society of Social Psychologists?" Because of the demand by many of these persons to know the results, they are published here and in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

Each letter of reply was marked in one of the following ways : "YES" (i.e., strongly in favor of forming a Society of Social Psychologists) ; "yes" (favorable, but with reservations) ; "?" (doubtful) ; "no" (unfavorable, but with reservations) ; "NO" (strongly opposed to forming a Society of Social Psychologists). In order to eliminate the effects of any bias on the part of the present writer in favor of the formation of such a Society, he was careful on the YES—yes—?—no—NO scale to classify letters in the direction of the "NO" end of the scale; that is, wherever there was any doubt as to the classification of a letter, it was moved one step in the "NO" direction.

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Replies, received over a period of six months, are tabulated below:

  YES yes ? no NO Total  
Sociologists 22 22 5 15 14 78 (30.1% of 259 sociologists)
Psychologists 38 34 6 19 15 112 (23.8% of 470 psychologists)
  60 56 11[2] 34 29 190  
  116   63    

What, then, should be done, if anything? Of the 190 replies received, almost twice as many (116) favor the formation of a Society of Social Psychologists as oppose it (63). Yet the practical difficulties are great.

The present writer had said in the previous article: "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." Analysis of the written replies indicated, however, that the SPSSI could be made more useful in three ways: (a) meet every other year in conjunction with the American Sociological Society, and every other year with the American Psychological Association; (b) make a determined effort to secure members of the SPSSI from the ranks of the sociologists, anthropologists, and others studying social problems; (c) arrange both the membership of the Council and participation in the programs in such a way that neither the administration of the SPSSI nor its programs would be dominated (as at present) by psychologists.

These three specific suggestions were sent to the Council of the SPSSI during the summer of 1938. At the meeting of the SPSSI in Columbus, Ohio, on September 6, 1938, its Council reported unfavorably on these proposals, although the present members were urged to recruit colleagues from the other social sciences (2).

A few suggestions (excerpts from letters) of both sociologists and psychologists follow:

This would be an excellent matter to bring up at the next meeting of the SPSSI.

I thought for a time that the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues was going to fill the bill, but it merely turns out to be a kind of propagandistic organization with which many of us at least do not feel fully in accord.


It would seem to me the most economic and efficient method would be for each group to invite representatives of the other group to appear on the annual programs of the existing associations.

Would it not be possible without disturbing existing organizations to achieve occasional joint sessions?

Why not arrange for occasional joint meetings of the two existing societies with symposia and joint programs by psychologists and sociologists? Every other year would be often enough for a joint session.

Could we perfect a coöperative relationship through mixed participation in the Social Psychology sections of the two national societies? Again, could we have the same mixed editorial approach on a new journal or on the one now being published? And still again, could we organize without a national meeting, on the basis of some research reporting service?

I should think it would be a good idea, if such a society is organized, for it to meet every other year, in conjunction with the American Sociological Society, and every other year in con-junction with the American Psychological Association.

One possibility that occurs to me is that there might be a trial conference without a formal organization. If in this conference there was a good deal of real meeting of minds,— it would be an argument for making the group permanent.

I should think the first step would be a conference on "Social Psychology and human relations," or something of the kind, in which an effort was made to give a balanced representation to the different, scientific, educational groups. The conference could then decide whether it is worth while to form a permanent association.

I think that if a society is formed it would be most useful by keeping the program to the round table, discussion type rather than to a series of papers in which anybody who desires can set forth his own particular problem.

If it were kept to a small size so as to include only a few outstanding people interested in social psychology, and representative of different views such as psychology, sociology, psychiatry, and anthropology, it could be used very profitably for discussion purposes. Meeting as a small group, let us say of about 50 or 60, it would be possible to have very fruitful exchanges of views, something of which the field of social psychology is badly in need.

If you form such a society, I should think it would be well

(150)    to suggest smaller groups within the large society which should meet for the discussion of topics designed only for those who are experts in those topics.

The most feasible plan, it seems to the present writer, would be the arrangement of a small conference, of say fifty or sixty, with invitations to representative sociological social psychologists, psychological social psychologists, anthropologists, psychiatrists, political scientists, and other social scientists. To be effective, such a conference should have no formal presentation of papers, but simply informal "round table" discussions of problems pertinent to the unified field of social psychology.


1. BRITT, S. H. Social psychologists or psychological sociologists—which? Amer. Sociol. Rev., 1937, 2, 898-902; J. Abn. & Soc. Psychol., 1937, 32, 314-318.

2. ———. Extension of membership of the S.P.S.S.I. Bull. S.P.S.S.I., 1938, 3, 5.

Department of Psychology
The George Washington University
Washington, D. C.


  1. In view of the timeliness of Dr. Britt's suggestions, it is appropriate to ask that comments be sent to members of the Editorial Board or of the Council of the S.P.S.S.I. (Ed.)
  2. Also, eight offprints were returned as undeliverable.

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