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CRISIS IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

:
THE RELEVANCE OF RELEVANCE
IRWIN SILVERMAN J
University of Florida

Let us reflect first on the reasons why social
F the trend of the 1970s continues, this era in
the social sciences and elsewhere may be called psychologists have not provided much data that are
the "age of relevance." The demands for relevant to social ills. Is it because we have not
relevance made on our discipline are mere particles engaged in the study of appropriate issues? Peruse
of a larger national movement, but psychologists the major headings in the index of any social psyand especially social psychologists are particularly chology textbook and note the topics that have
vulnerable to them. Thus, the working social psy- occupied us for the past 30 or so years—affiliation,
chologist is confronted by pressures from below— aggression, attitudes and attitude changes, eomhis undergraduate and graduate students who oc- munication, competition, conformity, decision makcupy the center of the movement—and above—his ing, group dynamics, impression formation, intergranting agencies who have one after another given group relations, leadership, negotiation, persuasion,
the message that proposals related directly to cur- prejudice, social power, socialization, and the like.
rent social problems have the inside track. Re- One could hardly construct a list with more posponses to these pressures, in perspective of the tential social relevance.
If the multitude of social-psychological findings
customary snail-like evolution of scientific movecannot aid the planners of society, it is apparently
ments, have been instantaneous and massive.
To illustrate: 1 was given the task not long ago not because we have been researching the wrong
of finding a "community social psychologist" to topics. It must be that our data are not generalizadd to our faculty. As I wandered through conven- able to the objects of our studies in their natural,
tion lobbies on my Diogeneslike quest, all I did ongoing states. This is a basic inadequacy of
find was a lot of other people looking for the same methodology rather than direction, and it will not be
kind of bird. Everyone seemed as vague as I resolved by pontifical edicts from any source about
about what the species looked like or where it what to study and where.
Such edicts, in fact, may compound the disaster.
nested.
According
to Koch (1969), the proliferation of
I am confident, though, that the slack will soon
pseudo-knowledge
within psychology can be atbe taken up by Zeitgeist-minded young PhDs, not
tributed
to
our
past
nai've acquiescence to externally
yet contaminated by published laboratory research,
imposed
mandates.
"Psychology," he says, "was
who will accrue to themselves the label and its
unique in the extent to which its institutionalization
attendant benefits. I wonder, however, if programs
preceded its content [p. 64]." It is the only diswill then each acquire one "community man" so
cipline that did not achieve status as a separate
that the less relevant members can continue to science by the nature of its contributions; rather it
watch undergraduate subjects on closed-circuit tele- was "created by edict," "stipulated into life v on
vision monitors in renewed peace, albeit with lighter the unquestioned assumption that the epistemobudgets.
logical strategies appropriate to the established
It seems like a peculiar way for science to natural sciences were equally fitting to the study
proceed, and it certainly seems to be a time for of human behavior.
The result has been a persistent, slavish obsession
sober reflection.
to
fit the study of behavior into existent models
1
Requests for reprints should be sent to Irwin Silverman,
Department of Psychology, University of Florida, Gaines- of other experimental sciences. This has caused us
to give selective inattention to the most important,
ville, Florida 32601.

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S. Strieker.. 1967). & ROSNOW. In R. ff we do not acquire the insights to generate social-psychological data that are veridical to behavior outside of the specific research paradigms from which they were spawned.. D. J. We must impress those who woidd direct us that we cannot achieve relevance in their sense until we achieve it in ours. Sociometry. . widespread movement within social psychology. Rosenthal. This movement deals also with the issue of "relevance. S. S. Psychology Today.1947) of our observations. J. R. G. Person perception and interpersonal behavior. their generalizability outside of the experiment proper. Mcssick. Campbell. and Sechrcst (1966). IT. 97-107. and attitude change (Silverman & Shulman. U. 379389. SII.. once our data have relevance in the larger sense. Schwartz. 26-40. Tagiuri & L. S C I L U I / M A N . 1969. Sociomel-ry. 1958.. 14." but in the broader. Vinacke (Chm. T. to today's social problems and those of tomorrow. KosiiNTjrAi. facet of behavioral research. Jnoblrusive measures: Nonreactive research in the social sciences. to models for social research that are not yet apparent. R. And if this "generalization gap" permeates all areas of psychological inquiry. E. !„. (Syllabus Scries No. . 1958.. Stanford: Stanford Universify Press.. and the group. Chicago. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Symposium presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association. and the data we acquire may relate very much to the motives and feelings and thoughts of subjects about their role in the experiment and very little to their lives outside of it. 30. Asch conformity studies: Conformity to the experimenter and/or to the group. L. I. E. 64-08. The observer. Pelrullo (Eds. 1966. It may lead. may well lead to the direct study of social problems in some cases and at some stages.. STKICKEK. 1967. A conceptual model of artifact in altitude change studies. CKISWELI. 3. seeks more valid research models for social psychology.MAN. we ought to be aware that a science cannot begin to build meaningfully by accepting externally imposed prescriptions for its procedures and problems.). The critical point is that the movement from within should not be distracted or hampered by the movement from without. Suspicion of deception: Implications for conformity research.. the past decade has offered encouragement for a way out of our dilemma. Mills.But." if we are allowed one chance to develop from within. Psychology cannot be a coherent science. T. N. In VV.) Artifact. perhaps along the lines of nonreactive strategies as discussed by Webb. the "new social psychology. but it may as readily lead to improved methods for studying the more basic questions that have traditionally absorbed us.in behumoral research. Chicago: Rand-McNally. MESSICK. REFERENCES BRUNSWICK. CAMPBELL. Further. the "ecological validity" (see Brunswick. 1970). I f we have learned nothing else. but by painstaking conceptual and empirical analyses of the deficits of the present model. that is. 1970. too. E. The psychologist as perceiver. T. 1967. scientifically credible sense of the relevance oj data to the construct to which they pertain. 196V. 1947. & JACKSON. September 1965. Given the topics we do study. 1. but it does not attempt this by assumption or edict. and others (reviewed in Rosenthal & Rosnow. in the form of a viable. D. the experimenter. & STIULMAN.s. & Jackson. Rosenberg. Kocir. Thus. Mm. 1965). too. New York: Academic Press. SCHWARTZ. Heralded by the discoveries of Orne.). .. it is inevitable that they will be relevant in the narrower sense. WKIIU. Ethical and methodological problems in social psychological research. I). (Eds. 1969. Systematic and representative design of psychological experiments with results in physical and social perception. group dynamics (Criswell. R. 33.AM KIUCA N PSYCHOLOGIST but pithy. the movement has led to extensive recvaluations of methods and data in such traditional areas of social psychology as conformity (Schulman. we will find that it is just as easy to proliferate pseudo-knowledge about social problems as anything else. scientific value and instrumental value in social psychology are inexorably tied. 1969) on the many sources of artifact in human psychological research. Social psychology. The core concept of the movement is that the model of psychological subject as object that has pervaded our research since postintrospectionist times is painfully flawed. M.VEK. 304) Berkeley: University o[ California Press. it is perhaps most visible in social psychology. & SECUREST. A.. D.