Social Psych

December 6, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Social psychology, in graduate school, turned out to be much different from what my undergrad teachers had led me to believe. I was expecting Goffman, Erik Erikson, the Meads (George and Margaret). Instead, grad school took me to the world of the social psych experiment.

At the time, I thought it was all trivial and manipulative. I said as much at the time. The intellectual forebears of experimental social psychology, it seemed, were “Beat the Clock” and “Candid Camera.” (Those too young to remember the former can find clips on YouTube. Here are some screen grabs.)

(Click on the image for a larger view.)
I was joking, of course, and I made this observation only to a few fellow students, not faculty. But now, I have just come upon a paragraph by Phil Zimbardo,* reflecting on his own famous experiment and that of Stanley Milgram:
Only after Stanley died did I become aware of our mutual admiration for Allen Funt, creator of Candid Camera. I consider Funt to be one of the most creative, intuitive social psychologists on the planet. For 50 years he has been contriving experimental scenarios in which ordinary people face a challenge to their usual perceptions or functioning. He manipulates situations to reveal truths about compliance,conformity, the power of signs and symbols, and various forms of mindless obedience.**
Bud Collyer, eat your heart out.

*From Obedience to Authority: Current Perspectives on the Milgram Paradigm, Thomas Blass, ed., 2009.

** For another view on “mindless obedience” in experiments, see this earlier post.


Anonymous said...

there's a good lit review of this kind of approach as it applies to when people pass the salt

Jay Livingston said...

Funny. And useful. I wasn't aware of this one. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

If you are looking for other precursers to current Social Psych orintations, go back to the dates BC (Which was not only Bud Collyer.) There was "Name that A Journal" with Bill Cullen ... not to mention the other BC who was cerfing the web to experiment in occupational psych. But, experimentation was the only way to go in Social Psych. It was easier in Sociology when all you had to do in the study of Marx was to say the secret word and some quack would come down and give you tenure.

Jay Livingston said...

I hate to spoil the fun by telling, but here are some footnotes to the previous comment for those who weren’t watching a lot of TV game shows in the 1950s:

1.Bud Collyer was the host of “Beat the Clock.”

2. Bill Cullen was the host of a couple of different game shows, including “Name that Tune.”

3. Bennet Cerf was a panelist on “What’s My Line,” where panelists tried to determine the occupation of the guest.

4. Groucho was the MC on “What’s My Line.” For the duck part, go here. Push the slider to about 0:56 and watch for 30 seconds.

I think that covers it. Or I should say, that's four down and six to go, Miss Kilgallen.