Social Psychology History

When Did Social Psychology Begin?

  • “Psychology has a long past, but only a short history.”
    - Herman Ebbinghaus, Summary of Psychology, quoted in Brehm et al (2005, p. 13)
  • “People have probably been asking social psychological questions for as long as humans could think about each other. Certainly, Plato offered keen insights into many social psychological issues. But no systematic and scientific study of social psychological issues developed until the end of the nineteenth century.”
    - Brehm, Kassin, & Fein (2005, p.12)
  • 90% of social psychologists who had ever lived were still alive in 1979
    - Dorwin Cartright (1979, cited in Brehm, et al, 2005)

A Timeline of Some Famous People, Papers & Studies

  • Darwin's origin of species (1859) and descent of man (1879)
  • Spencer (1874) "survival of the fittest" and social Darwinianism
  • Triplett (1897-1898) is often credited with the first social psychological experience (on social influence due to competition)
    "Social psychology is commonly regarded as having been founded in 1898, the publication date of Triplett’s experimental research into the effects of competition on children’s performance in a reel-winding task.  Triplett (1898) was inspired by the informal observation that, despite some individual differences, racing cyclists generally achieved better times on laps of a circuit when they had other cyclists pacing them.  Consistent with this observation, he found that children wound fishing reels faster in the presence of other children winding reels in the same room."
    - Haslam & McGarty (2001, p. 1)
  • Le Bon's (1895) study of the group mind and crowd behavior
  • Ellwood's (1899, 1900) prolegomena of social psychology
  • Mead (1913) on the social self
  • Freud (1921) on group psychology and the analysis of the ego
  • Journal of Abnormal Psychology became Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1921)
  • Dewey (1922) on human nature & conduct (introduction to social psychology)
  • Sherif's (1936) development of norms when people make judgments under the influence of others
  • Mayo's (1927-1932) studies of the Hawthorne Effect
  • Allport (1940) on the authoritarian personality
  • Lewin's (1930's-1940's) field theory about social forces
    e.g., Lewin, Lippitt, & White's (1939) test of three leadership styles which brought the real world into the lab, staging complex but controlled events
  • Asch's (1940's-1950's) studies on social influence and conformity
  • Heider's (1946) work on social cognition, attitudes and cognitive organization
  • Festinger (1950's) on social comparison and cognitive dissonance
  • Milgram's (1960's) famous studies of the effects of authority
  • Sherif & Sherif (1954, 1961) on intergroup behavior and social competition
  • Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology --> Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1968)
  • Zimbardo's (1971) famous Stanford Prison Experiment on social norming
  • Bandura (1977) on social learning
  • Tajfel's (1970's-1980's) social categorization and the minimal group experiment
  • Turner's (1970's-present) social identity theory and self-categorization theory
  • ...more Influential People in the History of Psychology


APA Monitor (1999). Social psychology: Once overlooked, now a stapleAPA Monitor, 30(11).

Danziger, K. (2000). Making social psychology experimental: A conceptual history, 1930 - 1970. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 36, 329 - 347.

Ellwood, C. A. (1899a). Prolegomena to social psychology I: The need of the study of social psychology. American Journal of Sociology, 656-665.

Ellwood, C. A. (1899b). Prolegomena to social psychology II: The Fundamental Fact in Social Psychology. American Journal of Sociology, 807-822.

Ellwood, C. A. (1900). Prolegomena to social psychology III: The Nature and Task of Social Psychology. American Journal of Sociology, 98-109.

Haslam, S. A., & McGarty, C. (2001). A 100 years of certitude? Social psychology, the experimental method and the management of scientific uncertainty.  British Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 1-21.

Le Bon, G. (1895). The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. Project Gutenberg.

Manstead, A. S. R., & Hewstone, M. (1995). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Triplett, N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. American Journal of Psychology, 9, 507-533.

Richard, F. D., Bond, C. F., Jr., & Stokes-Zoota, J. J. (2003). One hundred years of social psychology quantitatively described. Review of General Psychology, 7, 331-336.