No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)


Lazarsfeld, P.F. (1970), Sociology, in UNESCO - Main Trends of Research in the Social and Human Sciences, Vol. 1, Paris: Mouton.

The book "Sociology" (1970) by Paul F. Lazarsfeld is an in-depth exploration of the field of sociology for a UNESCO committee that reported on the most important trends in research in the social sciences. The idea was not to repeat the content of standard handbooks, and to focus on both recently systematically developed and controversial subjects. Lazarsfeld particularly discusses the differences between Marxist sociology and the type of research that is typical of Western countries, and the differences between this type of empirical research and the emphasis on social theory.

Understanding current trends in sociology requires understanding its history. The field has changed significantly after World War II, and Lazarsfeld finds it difficult to predict how it will evolve in the future. Different perspectives exist about how sociology emerged as a discipline:

  • It was created to complement other studies of human affairs (Hobhouse);
  • It emerged as a result of specialization in other fields such as economics and psychology (Schelsky);
  • It was created in response to the social changes brought about by the industrial revolution (Nesbit).

As there is no general agreement on what constitutes a theory in the social sciences, current trends in the field can best be described as efforts (searches) rather than accomplishments. There are national differences in the field though, like Marxism, functionalism, and German critical sociology.



Survey research has been an important tool for gathering information about social issues for administrators and intellectuals throughout history. In the past, it was primarily used to address immediate and pressing social problems, but Lazarsfeld writes it is now used more to gather quantitative data about various aspects of people's lives, such as their attitudes, behaviors, and possessions. The survey research movement began in the United States around 1930; in 1970 it was almost an American monopoly.

Measurement in social research relates to the development of variates, i.e. concepts that can be translated into measurable variables. In some cases, the variable of interest is obvious, like local currency when studying income distribution. When studying a concept like standard of living, it can be more complex to translate into a measurable variable. The development of these variates typically goes through four stages:

  1. Conceptualization of a vague idea or image;
  2. Operational definition of the variable;
  3. Measurement of the variable;
  4. Interpretation of the findings.

Different researchers may have different and varying levels of precision in their conceptualization of a variable.

When researchers study social phenomena, they often use survey research, which involves collecting information from a sample of people and using that information to make conclusions about a larger group. An important aspect is the creation of variables, which are the specific characteristics or pieces of information that researchers are interested in studying. For example, a researcher might be interested in studying people's income levels, so they would create a variable for income.

Researchers then use these variables to build tables and analyze patterns in the data. They might look at how income levels vary among different groups of people, such as men and women or people living in different areas. By carefully analyzing these patterns, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of social phenomena and make more accurate conclusions.

Survey research certainly has limitations. The results are based on assumptions of probability. The accuracy of the data is only as good as the sample that was used. When done correctly, survey research can provide valuable insights into social phenomena. Repeating surveys with the same topics allows for a precise analysis of the concept of process. For example, a survey about students' career choices and their values can be repeated to show in tables how these change over time. Other examples are studies into the interaction between party affiliation and political views, the influence of advertising on consumer behavior, and the military attitudes of soldiers and their promotion chances. The survey method allows for a more accurate understanding of processes in sociology.

During the 1950s, a time when Senator Joseph McCarthy was attacking college professors by accusing them of subversive activities and unpatriotic ideas, a study classified colleges based on the number of such incidents, and then interviewed professors and classified them based on two individual variables: how concerned they were about the situation and how intimidated they felt their colleagues were. The results showed a strong association between the two variables, with those who were concerned about themselves also more likely to be concerned about their colleagues. The study also looked at the results when colleges were classified based on the number of actual incidents, and found that the frequency of self-reported concern and perceived intimidation was different.

Lazarsfeld also describes a survey into the relationship between parents and children in a family, based on how the parents exert their authority and how the children acknowledge it. They survey classified parental authority as strong, moderate, or weak and children's recognition of that authority as high, medium, or low. This creates a nine-combination matrix, which can be used to create a typology of family relationships. This substructuring method is useful for verifying the logical consistency of the typology and for encouraging empirical research to make the typology more objective. This process is often used in sociology, for example, in Talcott Parsons' pattern variables, which bridge the gap between typologies of large social systems and what sociology can do with structuralism. These advanced methodological techniques are not always consciously used by sociologists.



The trend of formal sociology is closely linked to the industrialization of Western Europe. The development of a powerful middle class, the suffering of new wage-earning masses, and the growth of democratic political institutions were the main themes of early 19th century European works. After that, the two world wars slowed the development of social sciences in Western Europe and no major works in the classical tradition were published between 1920 and 1950. In the United States, formal sociology developed differently as industrialization had already begun and the country was dealing with issues of immigration and urbanization. Empirical research methods became an important tool in America and were taught in many colleges. By the mid-20th century, some American sociologists began to call for more social theory and criticized the lack of attention paid to larger social issues in most studies. The translation of the works of Weber, Durkheim, and Simmel made American pioneers appear provincial. The international role of the United States brought attention to underdeveloped countries. All of these elements contributed to a trend towards macro-sociology.


Lazarsfeld gives an example of Eckstein’s research into the reasons for why Norway is such a stable democracy. One of the main factors is the long-standing sense of community in the country. He defined this concept as being divided into three elements: Norwegians:

  1. a) avoid treating other people as useful objects and want to keep their social relationships separate from economic considerations;
  2. b) avoid competition;
  3. c) are inclined to cooperative activities and prefer organizations that serve this goal.

Eckstein used several criteria to prove this preference for non-economic social relationships, such as doctors not competing in public health care and preferring jobs with fixed salaries, and many Norwegians have spent some time in public service. Eckstein also used a survey of the public that asked if people trust their fellow citizens, with Norway having the highest percentage at 77%. He used personal interviews to illustrate how Norwegians avoid demeaning others, and interpreted their desire for privacy as a way to suppress their own hostile feelings. Eckstein concluded that Norwegians dislike competition by citing examples such as their preference for sports where they are not competing against each other and the use of consensus-based decision-making in many organizations. He also noted the importance of organizations in Norway, and how they are used to cover a wide range of activities.

Lazarsfeld cites other research by Lipset, who sees the decentralization of American unions as a criterium for their “fundamentally asocial militancy”. So, certain criteria can be linked to macro-sociological variables, such as the relationship between egalitarian societies and corruption in labor unions.

Lazarsfeld also provides examples of how Dahrendorf has used macro-sociological variables in his work, by examining the relationship between private and public values in German culture.

Of course, the use of macro-sociological variables can involve multiple steps and require evidence to support the conclusions drawn. Segmentation, the study of specific groups within a population, is an important area of study in macro sociology, e.g. the comparison between manual and non-manual laborers. Sociologists also study the segmentation of political, economic, and intellectual subsystems. Segmentation is often used to discuss the relationship between income, prestige, and political power, which can vary independently of each other. Max Weber and Thomas Marshall did this kind of research.

Though macrosociology can be applied to studying social processes and structures, limitations and inaccuracies exist in various dimensions of macrosociological research. There are often implicit assumptions and selective foci in the way that research is conducted.

Different types of explanation are commonly used in macrosociological research, including:

  • linear explanations, which assume a simple cause-and-effect relationship between events, are the most basic and common type of explanation used in macrosociological research;
  • strategy-based explanations;
  • dialectical explanations, which are useful for understanding how social processes and structures change over time, and how different elements within a society interact and influence one another:
    • Changes in the social and economic context of Virginia during colonial times led to unexpected and significant changes in the social structure of the colony;
    • Industrial revolution in Britain led to the differentiation of the family. Understanding the specific structural points of these processes allows for a more precise understanding of the timing of these changes.

A sociologist who did interesting theoretical work on macro-level issues and institutions, such as governments and international relations, is Amitai Etzioni. He used the example of a world government to illustrate how sociological theories can be extrapolated to explain and predict future events on a large scale. When applying theories to different levels of aggregation, the jump from the original observation to a higher level of analysis is not always as drastic, in which case it's just referred to as an application of a theory. Janowitz and Shils used a sociological theory to explain why German soldiers continued to fight during World War II. A beforementioned study by researchers from Columbia University uses the same theory to explain why faculties of American universities were able to resist the attacks of Senator Joe McCarthy.



The idea of theory that has developed in the natural sciences is not present in sociology. When authors in sociology speak of social theory they are usually referring to activities such as careful classification schemes, complex concepts, formulation of research problems of high social significance, general ideas about the way social change occurs or could be brought about, and expectations of empirical results that have not yet been confirmed. It might be better to speak of analytical reflection instead of theory to describe the state of systematic thinking in sociology. The theory that was most discussed in sociological literature in the 1960s was functionalism. This theory is difficult to define and its popularity can be explained by its ability to take on many forms, symbolizing the search for, rather than the essence of, social theory.

Role-sets in sociology refer to the different roles that individuals hold in society and the ways in which they navigate those roles. For example, a teacher may avoid using certain textbooks in order to avoid causing offense to conservative parents. These coping mechanisms help to achieve a remarkable degree of social regularity that allows most people to go about their business without being hindered by extreme conflicts in their role-sets.

Middle-range theory refers to the idea that theories should focus on specific, observable phenomena, rather than attempting to explain broad, abstract concepts. For example social mechanisms that maintain social stratification in Western societies, such as the inheritance of wealth and the influence of social networks, lead to better job opportunities and higher survival rates in stressful situations for certain individuals. Instead of speculating on the broader implications of this observation, a theorist of middle-range would focus on understanding the specific mechanisms at play.

Balance Theory

Primary groups, particularly families, are well equipped to handle non-uniform events. Bureaucracies, on the other hand, tend to struggle with non-uniform events due to larger numbers of people and longer communication chains. The solution to this problem is to establish better communication between primary groups and larger organizations in order to facilitate cooperation. Schools can establish contact with families, such as through social workers, parent-teacher associations, and mass media. The goal of the balance theory discussed here is to determine the most appropriate type of communication for specific problem groups. This theory can be applied to all types of bureaucratic organizations in industrial societies. The balance theory is similar to the theory of role sets, which focuses on the different factors involved in communication and how they can be improved.

Concerning sociology in communist countries in the 1960s, it was the younger generation of communist scientists who were driving the work in concrete sociology and carrying it out. The so-called de-Stalinization was responsible for much of this development, although growing contact with Western sociologists also played a role. At the end of the 1960s, a number of communist governments were providing more support for empirical social research than some Western countries. Lazarsfeld evaluates the impact of this connection between Western empirical social research, historical materialism as a philosophical system, and communist countries as a social reality on sociology. Lazarsfeld organizes his observations as follows: 1. Attitude research 2. Work analysis 3. Small group research 4. Problems of systematization 5. Trends towards mutual fertilization. He names the sources used, and relies on French sources, especially the extensive series of statements on Soviet sociology that were distributed at the Sixth World Congress of Sociology in Evian (September 1966). Sociologists from Eastern Germany provided a lot of literature that the author studied carefully. The work of Polish and Romanian sociologists was available in numerous French and English journal articles. A number of Western reports are not polemical and can be used as sources, particularly the monographs by Gabor Kiss and Hellmuth G. Bütow. In turn, communist overviews of Western sociology provide clues. Concering work in communist societies, communist societies have the dual task of increasing productivity while also making work meaningful for the individual worker. With the increasing use of machines, work is becoming less monotonous and physically demanding but the society still have to deal with complex issues such as training and retraining of supervisors, the organization of work for young people, the balance between manual and mental labor, and the ability for individuals to choose their own career paths and change jobs. The research of concrete sociology should highlight the social psychological factors involved in increasing productivity, organizing the work process, and developing social relationships. Capitalist countries have similar issues, which is typically referred to as work morale, but the situation is different in those countries as the focus is solely on increasing productivity or reducing costs, whereas in communist countries it is a goal in itself and a balance is sought between job satisfaction and productivity even if the latter is not as high as it could be if it were the main goal. There is limited information on how this complex problem is being approached through empirical research. Some studies show that only a limited portion of the working class perceives work as a civic duty. These studies conclude that it is not only a matter of more exhortations, but also a matter of more participation and more education.

Research on small groups is still being defended within communist societies, Lazarsfeld writes. While surveys on attitudes and behavior were quickly adopted by communist countries, there is a shift in focus compared to Western traditions. East German social psychologists studied group cooperation, but much of the report is dedicated to defending the value of this type of research against skeptical colleagues. There is little information available on group research in other communist countries, but there is an interesting reference in a report on sociological research in the Soviet Union, which highlights a difference between formal and informal organizations in terms of productivity, due to social psychological factors within the group. Western sociologists have studied similar groups such as the military-industrial complex, but not many examples exist where this analysis is done in relation to concepts used in Western small group research. Future research should focus on understanding how small groups can protect individuals, help them adapt, or lead to group breakdown in response to societal challenges, Lazarsfeld writes.

Marxism in sociological research can lead to new research ideas. Marxism, compared to other systems such as positivism and functionalism, provides a more comprehensive approach to understanding social behavior by analyzing it within the context of real social relationships. In discussions of Marxism in sociological research, there are often references to finding true, essential, and objective factors that can explain observed data, which may sound like metaphysical statements that cannot be proven or disproven. The author argues that these statements are based on a fundamental but unspoken position that all societal events are determined by the mode of production and the class struggle.

According to Lazarsfeld, there is potential for mutual fertilization between Western and Eastern sociology. For communist countries, understanding the political difficulties that still need to be overcome is necessary. The idea of cybernetics had only recently become acceptable in Communist countries. Reception of Eastern ideas by the West is likely to be easier because there is already a strong interest in theory in the West. A book by two American sociologists, had in its second edition more macro-sociological articles about social structure in foreign countries and a stronger section on theories of class structure, as well as representation of communist authors. The changes in the book can also be seen in the dedications, with the first edition being dedicated to a survey technician and the second to a Marxist sociologist.


Lazarsfeld does not provide a comprehensive overview of functionalism in sociology, as the literature is too extensive. Functionalism does provide a good example of the creativity and uncertainties associated with the current sociology's dual effort to systematize the growing amount of available factual information without falling into empty speculation about the past and future of all societies. Functionalism has a seductive nature, but it is inaccurate and it evades or adapts to critical examination. A chronological overview of the development of functionalism starts with Durkheim's introduction of the concept in 1893. Durkheim's followers, particularly British anthropologists, popularized the concept in the 1920s, and Talcott Parsons and his colleagues at Harvard brought the concept into the mainstream of American sociology in the 1930s and 1940s.

The functionalist perspective in sociology can be reduced to the idea that the task of true scientific analysis is to show what drives people without their knowledge. Functionalism's formulations are so general that they do not provide a real guideline for specific investigations or for interpreting empirical results. Functionalists must focus on specifying their ideas, but this can only be done by focusing on aspects of the general formula that are relevant to the individual author.

There have been efforts to differentiate different types of functionalism, but these have often introduced new terminology rather than simplifying it. Functionalism is a perspective that is prevalent in sociology, but it does not fully meet the expectations of sociologists.


Some authors hope that their system type will become a model for more advanced social science analysis. They refer to this as the second cybernetics revolution which introduces systems that have positive feedback in addition to negative feedback. Negative feedback attempts to correct deviations in order to maintain balance, while positive feedback amplifies small or random changes and develops new forms and goals within the system. For example, a farmer building a house in a flat area, leads to other farmers joining and building together, eventually leading to the development of a city. The ideas of general systems analysis could contribute to sociological thinking by easing logical tensions and providing new opportunities for understanding communication and organization functions.

Conflict sociology

German sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf proposes that when power distribution in society leads to conflicts being resolved to the disadvantage of certain social groups, a new approach is needed. Dahrendorf argues that to understand and evaluate social change, sociologists should focus not just on the functional system of society, but also on the social change that emerges from the conflicts within society and cannot be eliminated by restoring balance. He does not advocate for revolution, but instead aims for a society that can derive new goals from old conflicts through social planning that relies on practical experimentation rather than violence. This trend in Dahrendorf's thinking emphasizes elements of functionalism that strengthen conservative positions.


Reciprocity is a fundamental aspect of any system according to sociologist Alvin Gouldner. All societies have a norm that requires that benefits be returned at some point in time. The proof that an element (i) is functional for a system (S) only helps to explain the maintenance and stability of (S) under two conditions: that the system (S) compensates for the service of (i) and that the service of (i) depends on the fulfillment of a positive function by (S) for (i). The two partners do not have to be completely dependent on each other and can have other sources of support, which weakens the connections between the elements of a system. This leads to the concept of role management, which is also discussed by Goode. Gouldner also discusses cases where the weaker partner is not able to fully compensate due to power differences, where society or certain institutions intervene.

Critical Theory

The Frankfurt School is a group of intellectuals and scholars (notably Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, Fromm and Marcuse) who published a journal called the "Studien über Autorität und Familie" that sought to understand the current state of history through all social sciences. The articles in the first edition addressed topics such as Marxist economic theory, the social determinants of literature and music, and the role of music in society as a commodity determined by market value. Theodor Adorno’s "Zur gesellschaftlichen Lage der Musik" highlights the contradictions and societal issues present in music and its role as a commodity. The Frankfurt School left Germany when Hitler came to power, and it took some time for them to establish a clear programmatic stance on their research, which was outlined in an article by Max Horkheimer in 1937 called "Traditional and Critical Theory". The article discusses the structure of modern science as an element in the rise of the middle class and the critique of traditional theory.

Adorno's method was to identify latent functions, which are relationships that are not obvious to the casual observer, but which serve to deceive and conceal the true nature of society. He believed that social reality should be studied and understood in order to demystify and expose it. As an illustration, he argued that music in modern society has become a fetish, and that we live in a world of sales increase, propaganda and advertising.

There was a debate between Theodor Adorno and Karl Popper on the nature of the theory and practice of sociology. Adorno emphasized the importance of critical theory, which aims to uncover the underlying structures of society and reveal the ways in which they are used to oppress certain groups. Popper, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of empirical research and the scientific method in sociology. Lazarsfeld writes that the debate between the two sociologists was more about their feelings towards the Vietnam War and less about their ideas about how sociology should be practiced. Jürgen Habermas attempted to clarify the difference between analytical science theory and dialectics by discussing how the object of sociological analysis is formed, the relationship between theory and evidence, and the relationship between science and practice.


A theory of dialectics put forward by a sociologist named Gurvitch includes five different dialectical procedures:

  1. Dialectical complementarity, which deals with the relationship between individuals and others, between planned and spontaneous activities, etc.
  2. Mutual dialectical implication, which deals with the interaction between social structure and technology, and between cultural structures and social interaction on a macro level.
  3. Dialectical ambiguity, which deals with the difficulties individuals or groups face when living at the intersection of multiple social systems and trying to find their own identity.
  4. Dialectical polarization, which deals with the possibility of an antagonistic development, as in class struggle or war.
  5. Dialectical reciprocity of perspectives, which highlights elements that are neither identification nor separation, but have become so intense that they lead to a parallelism.

These dialectical procedures are not meant to provide explanations, but rather to provide a framework for the explanatory work in sociology. Historians have also taken an interest in this, as evidenced by a collective work on feudalism that raises the question of whether the abstracted European history model can be applied to the history of other countries. A book by Eisenstadt on centralized bureaucracies would also benefit from a re-examination from this typological perspective, Lazarsfeld states. There is an increasing interest in empirical research and quantification in sociology between the two World Wars, which was only interrupted in the United States during WWII. After the war, this interest continued to grow, particularly among younger generations, and the only source of literature and methodological experience was the United States. This led to a significant level of uniformity in reported sociological activities across countries, with each phase of modern life being the subject of empirical studies or being planned for future study.

Developing countries

Lazarsfeld observes (in 1970): Sociologists in developing countries have focused on modifying traditional social structures, for example India's issues with caste and villages, which relates to the country's political problem of how to organize a central government in the face of such heterogeneity. African and Japanese countries are addressing changes in traditional kinship systems due to industrialization. Sociologists in developing countries are increasingly interested in applying sociology to national development planning. There is a growing awareness that economic development requires not only economic measures, but also a thorough understanding of society and the forces at play within it. Sociologists in developing countries are increasingly becoming a part of the growing intelligentsia and are being involved in political and social activism.

Developments in sociological research

Sociological research in the 19th century until World War I, and since World War II has focused on areas where social problems have arisen, such as the assimilation of foreign workers, political elections, religious practices, and industrial and familial relationships. Sociological research has also been influenced by official observations of sharp differences in the position within social classes among different ethnic groups, such as French Canadians, caste groups in India, West Indians and Asians in the United Kingdom, and indigenous people in South America.

The Netherlands

Lazarsfeld compares sociological thinking in Germany and the Netherlands and notes that the Dutch aversion to intellectual systems building is in contrast to German thinking. Sociology in the Netherlands has little or no grand theory. There is a national imprint on sociological research in the Netherlands that is reflected in the country's culture. The Dutch preference for descriptive aspects and short-range hypotheses over the systematization of philosophical axioms is likely due to the Dutch focus on the individual and the national character of the Dutch culture. Young Dutch sociologists are increasingly interested in theoretical research and the themes chosen by Dutch sociologists are closely related to Dutch culture.

Theoretical and practical developments

Lazarsfeld sees a need to review and update the theoretical framework and methodology of sociology in order to determine what is relevant and useful for society. Western and American social theory may not be suitable for explaining phenomena in non-western or developing countries. The cultural characteristics of a society can affect the research methods used by sociologists. For example, survey research may encounter resistance in certain cultures due to differences in vocabulary and concepts.

Sociologists in different countries often disagree on the type of work that should be done and how it aligns with their ideals. For example, there is criticism in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Spain of an excessive focus on applied research at the expense of theoretical work. Disagreement exists over the appropriate role of quantification in the United Kingdom and Spain, and a long-standing conflict in Hungary between quantitative sociologists and sociographers or social critics regarding the relative validity of their methods. In the Netherlands, there is a division between traditional sociology and the school of philosophical sociology that emerged as a reaction to the lack of theory in Dutch sociology. Some difficulties and resistance impede the development of sociology.

The development of sociological research is hindered in different countries, like Australia and New Zealand. These countries have (had) limited training opportunities available at universities. The late development of sociology teaching in these countries results in a shortage of trained sociologists who could serve as part-time teachers. This problem is not unique to these countries; it is seen in other countries such as Denmark and Pakistan. Conducting research in developing areas is difficult, because of factors like cultural barriers and the lack of necessary resources.

Popular sociological concepts and methods

Some sociological ideas have become widely accepted and have even become part of modern language. Sociological concepts are used in fields such as medicine, law and literature. The language of sociological research has changed over time and concepts like public opinion have been studied and discussed in a more clear and rational way. There is ongoing debate about the use of research methods like surveys and how to interpret their results. Survey research is applied in various social science disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, economics, and psychology. Survey research has become a common method for gathering information about public opinion, and it has been used to study various phenomena, such as cultural values, economic conditions, and psychological states. Survey research is often used to measure the effectiveness of social programs and policies, and it has become an essential tool for understanding the complexities of modern society.

Studies of educational television can provide a good example of how people can learn a lot from these programs. In reality, it is often those who do not watch television outside of laboratory experiments who learn the most. Correlation studies show that less educated segments of the population tend to shy away from such programs. Sociologists are often called upon to evaluate advertisements and other forms of propaganda. They develop techniques that can be applied to similar problems faced by economists and political scientists. The development of a basic action scheme that can be adapted to a variety of specific choices could also be a part of structural sociology. Informal structures have been widely used in sociology, e.g. in studies of the French bureaucracy, the work of the Tavistock Institute on economic management, and studies of jury deliberation at the University of Chicago.

Research of social structure

Moore studied the relative weight of collective and individual values and how they interact over time. To organize this material, Moore proposed several categories to describe social structures, including the dominant system, social stratification, certain statistical categories like age, gender, and ethnicity, and time sequences that characterize a society, such as seasonal variations, aging, and career paths dictated by the type of work. An interesting question is, though, how these social structures influence human behavior.

Beware of extreme sociological and psychological reductionism

A society has a dominant system of norms, and the question is how compliance with these norms is achieved, what can be said about deviant behavior outside of these norms, and how consistent these normative systems are. The relationship between social processes and individual behavior is particularly interesting, as personal experiences of a career correspond to the social phenomenon of success. As new groups of individuals enter roles that are only vaguely defined, they will bring about significant social change. Technological progress, which is partly determined by inherent intellectual rules, could greatly surpass the abilities of any individual.

A problem in psychology research is the choice between experimental and worldly realism: can results from experiments accurately predict how people will behave in real-world situations? Stanley Milgram did an experiment, in which test subjects were asked to help with a study on the effects of electric shocks, believing that they were increasing the shocks on actual people. No shocks were actually used, though, and the people appearing to be in pain were actors. This raises the question how to know how much of the results were due to the actors' performances. Multivariate plans and follow-up experiments have helped to support the interpretation of results. Social psychologists have built on experiments to design new ones. Schachter showed that people put in a state of fear had a stronger desire to stay with others. This raises questions about why this is the case, and what alternative explanations can be thought of.

USA vs Europe

A difference in approach exists to researching social phenomena between European and American researchers. Europeans tend to be more patient in developing detailed descriptions of social phenomena. British researchers Argyle and Kendon conducted experiments and then summarized their findings in general literature on what they called social events. The idea behind their research is based on task analysis of manual labor jobs. Their findings suggest that a person's social competence grows in relation to the criteria they observe in the behavior of others, as well as their ability to anticipate what the other person will do next and adjust their own behavior accordingly. This type of research provides insight into the way that encounters between people can be described. A lot of factors are at play, like:

  • fixed characteristics of the event
    • posture
    • distance
    • orientation
  • dynamic characteristics
    • expressions
    • movements
    • features of appearance.

Moscovici has extended this work by showing that the positioning elements between two people in conversation are also connected to linguistic features of their verbal exchange.

Social psychology’s influence

Shifts in social psychology contribute to sociology. In the 1930s, the S-R model was popular, where the environment provided stimuli to which humans responded. It became clear that people responded differently to the same stimuli, leading to the S-O-R model, where stimuli affect organisms with different dispositions. The social psychology contribution to sociology can be understood as an O-S-R model, where the organism has its own tendencies that influence its perception of the environment, and it actively seeks new stimuli to respond to. Recent trends in social psychology that are relevant to sociology are the concept of self-assessment, the avoidance of dissonance, and the process of adult socialization. Self-evaluation refers to how individuals view their own abilities and attributes in relation to their profession, and how those perceptions may change over time. Methodological challenges exist in developing scales to measure self-evaluation (Ruth Wylie).

Cognitive dissonance

The theory of cognitive dissonance is applied in social psychology. The theory states that individuals have a desire to maintain consistency between their beliefs and actions, and when there is a discrepancy, they will adjust their beliefs or actions to reduce the dissonance. The theory began with Heider's work on balance in interpersonal relationships, and was later developed by Osgood and Festinger. Festinger's theory is considered one of the most widely discussed and researched topics in social psychology in recent years, with a large amount of literature dedicated to it. Festinger and his colleagues did experiments on a small religious cult whose predictions of the end of the world did (of course) not come true. Aronson and Carlsmith did experiments on how individuals adjust their attitudes in response to discrepancies between their expectations and actual performance. Some critics argue that traditional reinforcement theories can explain most of the results observed in cognitive dissonance studies. Studies also exist about aspects of societal life, such as work and career, and specific life events such as marriage. Soviet social psychologists have been particularly interested in understanding how to increase creativity and motivation in work. 

Group dynamics

The field of group dynamics is complex and difficult to synthesize, though valuable insights can be gained by studying it. Roger Brown studied how people make riskier decisions in groups than alone, and this can be interpreted in light of research on how groups form and how individuals' roles and interactions within groups can change over time. Another research area is the role of leadership within groups, and how perceptions of leadership can change based on the interactions and expectations within the group. Many studies have focused on small groups of people, and the research is often conducted in the United States, though group dynamics is an area of interest in other countries, with some researchers focusing on its applications in vocational training and therapy and others examining its relationship to historical events such as the rise of Hitler in Germany. There is a lack of integration between the various studies though.