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History of Social Psychology at Mid-20th Century  

Thomas F. Pettigrew

The discipline of psychology has an extremely broad range—from the life sciences to the social sciences, from neuroscience to social psychology. These distinctly different components have varying histories of their own. Social psychology is psychology’s social science wing. The major social sciences—anthropology, economics, sociology, and political science—all had their origins in the 19th century or even earlier. But social psychology is much younger; it developed both in Europe and North America in the 20th century. The field’s enormous growth over the past century began modestly with a few scant locations, several textbooks, and a single journal in the 1920s. Today’s social psychologists would barely recognize their discipline in the years prior to World War II. But trends forming in the 1920s and 1930s would become important years later. With steady growth, especially starting in the 1960s, the discipline gained thousands of new doctorates and multiple journals scattered throughout the world. Social psychology has become a recognized, influential, and often-cited social science. It is the basis, for example, of behavioral economics as well as such key theories as authoritarianism in political science. Central to this extraordinary expansion were the principal events of mid-20th century. World War II, the growth of universities and the social sciences in general, rising prosperity, statistical advances, and other global changes set the stage for the discipline’s rapid development. Together with this growth, social psychology has expanded its topics in both the affective and cognitive domains. Indeed, new theories are so numerous that theoretical integration has become a prime need for the discipline.


Anglo-American Psychology in the Cold War  

Marcia E. Holmes

From the end of World War II until roughly 1989, global leaders feared that cataclysmic war would break out between the world’s two superpower states, the Soviet Union and the United States. Though such a confrontation did not occur, the stalemate between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States—with its simmering fears, proxy battles, and psychological warfare—became known as the Cold War. Psychological expertise played an important role in the Cold War, especially within Western democracies like the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. In these countries, citizens tended to view the Cold War as a “battle for minds”: a fight against communist political ideology, totalitarianism, social conformity, and other threats to individual mental freedom. Anglo-American psychology flourished within this intellectual environment by finding new topics and applications for research, new sources of funding, and a new image as essential to the functioning of healthy democracy. Historians continue to debate how the Cold War influenced the field of psychology. Overall, the strategic partnership between psychology and the “military-industrial complex” was limited to certain initiatives. In some cases, Anglo-American psychologists who used their expertise to fight the Cold War were led into questionable pursuits, resulting in greater public scrutiny and even scandals for themselves and their profession. Nonetheless, the Cold War had a significant impact on Anglo-American psychology by making the relationship between psychological knowledge and democratic values a continual subject of public concern.