The critical schools of social psychology came about in response to a growing dissatisfaction with the scientific paradigm that had become entrenched in psychology in the first half of the twentieth century. Social psychology developed two separate strands, the Psychological Social Psychology strand, in America, and the Sociological Social Psychology schools in Europe. While the American school developed into an experimental, empiricist discipline that relied on the scientific method, the European traditions became more qualitative, with one example being the phenomenological school that believed it was more important to look at experience rather than explanation.
Cognitive social psychology emerged in the mid-twentieth century as a critique of the dominant behaviourist movement and quickly became the main force behind the American school of Psychological Social Psychology. (Hollway, 2007). With its roots in mainstream psychology, cognitive social psychology has a primarily quantitative methodology, relying heavily on statistical methods in controlled conditions, and adheres to the hypothetico-deductive paradigm found in other sciences. The main focus of this form of social psychology is on how the individual behaves in controlled situations and this is examined through experiments and social psychometric data gathering.
In the laboratory it is possible to observe people’s behaviour in a carefully controlled environment. This makes it possible for the cognitive social psychologist to “disentangle cause and effect” by isolating the various parts of a theory that can be measured and designing the experiment to ensure that only those are measured (Jetten, 2007). The experimental method is part of the empirical tradition of the scientific paradigm and the evidence obtained through experimental research is viewed by proponents of the cognitive social perspective as being “the lifeblood of psychology” (Spears, 2007).
In order to understand an issue, the cognitive social psychologist will identify the variables that may affect the issue and then design an experiment that allows the variables to be manipulated, usually in a laboratory setting but more often in the field. This immediately produces a power relation between the researcher and the subject, which informs the entire proceeding. A famous example of this is Stanley Milgram’s (1965) investigation into the nature of obedience where subjects would “give” an actor shocks until the apparent death of the person being shocked on the instructions of an experimenter.
The power relationship between experimenter and subject also raises ethical questions, especially as most experiments involve some sort of deception in order to make sure the subject’s knowledge does not affect the outcome. In fact, it is often considered necessary and valid to deceive participants where there is a scientific case (Haslam, 2007). As noted in DVD 1 (2007) the subject can become upset and worried when...