The Rise and Fall of Social Psychology
The Use and Misuse of the Experimental Method
This unflinching effort critically traces the attempt of social psychology over the past half century to forge a scientific understanding of human behavior based on the systematic use of experiments.
Having examined the record from the inception of the field to the present, Brannigan suggests that it has failed to live up to its promise: that social psychologists have achieved little consensus about the central problems in the field; that they have failed to amass a body of systematic, non-trivial theoretical insight; and that recent concerns over the ethical treatment of human subjects could arguably bring the discipline to closure. But that is not the disastrous outcome that Brannigan hopes for. Rather, going beyond an apparent iconoclasm, the author explores prospects for a post-experimental discipline. It is a view that admits the role of ethical considerations as part of scientific judgment, but not as a sacrifice of, but an extension of, empirical research that takes seriously how the brain represents information, and how these mechanisms explain social behaviors and channel human choices and appetites.
What makes this work special is its function as a primary text in the history as well as the current status of social psychology as a field of behavioral science. The keen insight, touched by the gently critical styles, of such major figures as Philip Zimbardo, Morton Hunt, Leon Festinger, Stanley Milgram, Alex Crey, Samuel Wineburg, Carol Gilligan, David M. Buss—among others—makes this a perfect volume for students entering the field, and no less, a reminder of the past as well as present of social psychology for its serious practitioners.
“The author is a social psychologist and his book reflects widespread dissatisfaction felt by social psychologists themselves. He not only portrays what he and others believe has gone wrong. He also explains why great hopes of social psychology have not been met and suggests what can be done now to improve matters. . . . The author’s critical portrayal of research in American social psychology is a serious attempt to take stock of a discipline gone astray and to find ways to more productive paths. . . . If criticism within a discipline is good and leads to progress, we can only hope that criticism of a discipline may have the same salutary effect. . . . [A]n important book for those who wish to understand social psychology today and/or to find ways to improve it.”
—John Wettersten, Philosophy of the Social Sciences
“In The Rise and Fall of Psychology. . . author Augustine Branningan (a sociologist) argues that experimental social psychology’s attempt to use the experimental method to create new knowledge has failed, and concludes that, in its present form, experimental social psychology is an ‘impossible science with little possibility’ of establishing any credible knowledge about the social world. . . . In presenting such arguments, Branningan contributes substantively to a discourse and reflection on the metatheory, epistemology and ideology of experimental social psychology (one might say that Brannigan’s book represents the latest contribution to the ‘crisis literature’ in social psychology).”
—Angela R. Febbraro, Theory & Psychology
"It is a work of patient, careful, serious scholarship. It is, in part, a case study. A case study of considerable value. But it is also consistently comparative and, in the end, future oriented."
—Travis Hirschi, Canadian Journal of Sociology