Who Teaches Social Psychology?

William B. Cameron, Philip Lasley
Butler University
Richard Dewey
University of Illinois

Recent years have seen a growing interest in the study and teaching of social psychology in this country, both on the part of psychologists and sociologists. However, due to academic isolation of many of those interested there is as yet incomplete agreement on the basic interpretation and content of this field. As Steuart Henderson Britt has pointed out, for sociologists it is frequently social psychology, whereas for psychologists it is social psychology. [1] A similar uncertainty exists in the minds of those who determine curricular allocations. Some universities treat the material in sociology departments, while others consider it to be psychology. Still others handle social psychology in both departments, separately or collectively.

The attempt was made to determine where social psychology is taught, by examining the catalog descriptions of courses offered, and comparing these to a model definition of social psychology. Attention was paid primarily to departments of psychology and sociology, since these are the two departments principally concerned. The small minority of courses of a sociopsychological nature which may be found in other departments was not recorded. Departments of psychology and sociology were included in the tabulation only if they offered a course in social psychology as defined in the study; thus the catalogs of many schools were examined from which the one or the other department does not appear.

The criteria on which the classification of courses was made were developed in an M.A. thesis,[2] based upon the available texts in the field, the theoretical comments in symposia and monographs, and correspondence with a number of recognized leading social psychologists. This is not reproduced here, but the resulting definition seems to be well in line with the views of social psychologists with whom it has been discussed. In brief, while the definitive criteria established may not completely satisfy all social psychologists, the attempt was made to develop a picture which contained all of the points on which there was something approximating consensus, and in addition to include the points which some of the social psychologists held as minority opinions, where the addition of these seemed logically defensible in relation to the general position.

The results of the original study appear in Table I while those of the recent study appear

(554) in Table II. No elaborate statistical manipulations have been performed, since it was felt that apparent precision in results so obtained would belie the nature of the original data.[3]

The main observation to be made concerning these data is that social psychology, whether recognizable in the course titles or not, is taught in almost equal degree, if not kind, in psychology

Table 1 Distribution of Social Psychology Courses in Psychology and Sociology Departments, 1942 -1943
Department Number of Departments Number of Courses, Each Title   Total
Social Psychology Other 
Psychology 193 112
Mn. 0.6
Mn. 3.4
Mn. 4.0
Sociology 205 55
Mn. 0.3
Mn. 2.2
Mn. 2.4
Total 398 167
Mn. 0.4
Mn. 2.8
Mn. 3.2


Table 2 Distribution of the Social Psychology Courses in Psychology and Sociology Departments, 1949-1950
Department Number of Departments Number of Courses, Each Title Total
Social Psychology Other 
Psychology 165 208
Mn. 1.3
Mn. 2.3
Mn. 3.6
Sociology 189 71
Mn. 0.4
Mn. 2.2
Mn. 2.6
Total 354 279
Mn 0.8
Mn. 2.3
Mn. 3.1

and sociology departments. Social psychology is coming more and more to be recognized in course titles. There have been no remarkable shifts in this distribution generally in the last seven years, unless we choose to regard the slight apparent increase in courses in sociology departments and the similarly slight apparent decrease in psychology departments as meaningful. In view of the unavoidable looseness of the method, the authors do not consider these especially meaningful, whether they may be statistically significant or not.

However, the statistical stability of curricula is unfortunately matched in many instances by theoretical stability. Sociology-hired social psychologists and psychology-hired social psychologists still do not recognize in practice what many of them accept in theory, the necessity of joining forces in academic work and in research. Old curricular property rights are defended in some schools, and whether through physical isolation or other reasons, many of us simply do not know what is going on "over in the other department." By far the most serious consequence of this separation is the lack of communication of ideas. Both sociologists and psychologists have investigated many of the same phenomena. Both have devised theories with which to account for some of these phenomena, and in so doing both have developed concepts. But while

(555) the social psychologist trained in both fields may be able roughly to translate some of these concepts, such as the Super-ego and the Generalized Other, much valuable work is beclouded by esoteric terminology to the extent that the beginning student often flounders from one department to the other, vaguely wondering if anybody knows anything. Furthermore, from a scientific standpoint, such duplication of effort, unless it is deliberately performed as a check on previous investigation, is wasteful and useless.

A quick solution is not likely, nor is any solution inexpensive or easy, but conscientious effort by persons in the field along three lines would seem to promise greater success than has been ours in the past. These three suggestions are not original, but since they have not been heeded generally as yet, they demand repetition:

1. Social psychologists of whatever persuasion should seek to become better acquainted with the current literature in "the other field," in textbooks, monographs, and in the journals.

2. Social psychologists should become members of the professional societies in their own department and in the other department, particularly such organizations as SPSSI.

3. Interdepartmental research should be pursued whenever this is possible.

As a means to the above ends, social psychologists should attempt to apprise their faculty committees, administrative officials, and governing boards of the desirability of financial and moral assistance in developing a more unified field of study and instruction.


  1. Steuart Henderson Britt, "Social Psychologists or Psychological Sociologists—Which?" Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, XXXII (1937), 314 ff.
  2. Wm. Bruce Cameron, "What Is Social Psychology?" unpublished M.A. Thesis, Butler University, 1943.
  3. The arguments against elaborate analysis of such data are concisely stated in Thomas C. McCormick, "Simple Percentage Analysis of Attitude Questionnaires," American Journal of Sociology, L (March 1945), 394-395.

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