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The Current State of Social Psychology
This is a guest post by Joe Forgas, a senior and very accomplished social psychologist who has published over 300 papers and dozens of books.
I was recently asked to write some comments on my impressions about the current state of social psychology by a senior colleague who is preparing an article on this topic. I thought these comments may well be interesting to a wider audience as well, so they are reproduced here.
I appreciate your kind invitation to comment on the current state of social psychology for your article in preparation. I am honoured by your request, and it comes in a particularly opportune time as during the past week I was responsible for organising the 25th Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology on the challenging topic ’The tribal mind: The psychology of collective delusions’ . Believe it or not, the current state of social psychology has been the focus of many of our intense discussion. I thought I could best answer your question by making a few general points, and also by attaching some of my relevant papers. So here it goes:
First I would like to say that in my view social psychology is of immense importance, as one of the most crucial fields that can shed light on fundamental features of human nature and the basic characteristcis of the human condition. Classic strudies by Sherif, Asch, Milgram, Tajfel, Festinger etc. hold up a mirror to us about who we are, what are our shortcomings, and how we could better our lives.
I also think social psychology currently is in a perilous state. Instead of open, fearless and curiosity-driven research that characterised the earlier decades, the quest for knowledge has been increasingly replaced by close-minded social activism, especially in the USA. At the most basic level, social activism (presuming that there is certainty about what should be done and no more questions are necessary) is fundamentally incompatible with science and the search for truth that requries an open mind and the acceptance of uncertainty and divergent opinions. Social justice movements, virtue signaling and DEI requirements are fundamentally incompatible with the demands of scientific discovery.
The unconditional emphasis on the importance of free speech and open debate has all but disappeared. Cancel culture, deplatforming, woke totalitarianism and political correctness resulted in many of our colleagues exercising painful self-censorhip, or what is worse, joining tribal lynch mobs to punish those who dare to think or speak differently. Instead of open debate and fearless research, self-appointed guardians of political correctness exercise control over what can be said, by whom, and how. In such a milieu, research becomes impossible.
This poisonous culture has now taken over many of our once-respectable scientific associations such as SPSP, EASP, SESP and APS etc. These associations are now increasingly led a small tribe of selected woke executives who care more about promoting political agendas and virtue signaling than defending open inquiry and free speech. Demanding DEI statements before submitting a conference paper (SPSP), abolishing the Tajfel Prize based on the scurrilous and unsubstantiated claims against a long-dead researcher in a feminist journal (EASP), sacking a highly regarded senior editor on the demands of a woke lynch mob (the Fiedler affair, APS), the unilateral promotion of political agendas (SESP) fundamentally compromise our claims to be an objective science that can be taken seriously. These activities by our psychological associations remind me of the totalitarian practices of Stalinist commissars (something I personal experienced) rather than the behaviour of a scientific association in a liberal democracy in the 21st century.
In trying to understand where these poisonous ideas come from, I think we can look at the collectivist, identity-based implementation of cultural marxist ideologies. The program first promoted by marxists such as Gramsci and later Horkheimer and others at the Frankfurt School – the long march through the institutions like academia, the law, the media, etc. to promote group conflict between identity groups in order to attack what they regarded as the fundamentally evil liberal, capitalist free-market system has now achieved significant successes, including in social psychology. You might be interested in a draft article I wrote on this recently.
If the current trends continue, our discipline may have no future. Just as many of the humanities, we can become irrelevant, completely detached from the realities that rule most people’s lives. On the other hand, the pendulum might swing back, but it will be a slow and painful process of re-building and re-establishing the culture and values of open inquiry, unconstrained free speech and tolerance. I think in a few decades people will look back on this time and wonder how so many educated people could have believed so many absurd ideas (that biological sex is irrelevant, that evolution has no influence on human behaviour, that membership in identity groups is paramount in defining human psychology, that ’implicit associations’ are the key to reducing discrimination, that controlling speech can influence thinking and behaviour, etc.).
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