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Classic and Contemporary Readings in Social Psychologyby Robert S. Feldman
Classic and Contemporary Readings in Social Psychology is a unique set of 30 paired selections from articles and books encompassing the breadth of the field of social psychology. Each reading represents either a classic, seminal article or a contemporary work that addresses a topic relevant to social psychology.
The classic articles are written by a "who's who" in the field, including such figures as Leon Festinger, Stanley Milgram, and Edward Jones. In addition, we have included more recent articles that have risen to classic status because of their impact on the field and the frequency with which they are cited.
The contemporary articles are written by a variety of individuals, most of whom are active scholars in the field of social psychology. Each is a recent and provocative report on some fundamental social psychological topic or issue. By pairing classic and contemporary articles, readers can plainly see the contrast between the old and the new, illustrating the progress and advances of the discipline.
In choosing these readings, we have cast our net widely. In addition to traditional journal articles, we examined book chapters, magazine articles, and even presentations at meetings and conventions. Our goal was not just to find articles that were technically sound or ones that revolutionized the field. Rather, we also sought to identify articles that helped to provide a picture of the development of the field, the concerns of its practitioners at a given moment in history, and a sense of the dynamic qualities of a constantly evolving discipline.
In editing the articles, we tried to provide sufficient detail to convey the depth, subtleties, and importance of the work being described. Furthermore, we tried to keep intact the original voice of the researcher who wrote the piece. At the same time, we avoid including so much technical material that the readers would get mired in detail and miss the forest for the trees.
To meet these editing requirements, we were careful to choose sources that were accessible to students. In some articles, for purposes of clarity, we abridged and condensed the original text. In such cases, we have made clear where material has been dropped by inserting ellipses.
Each article begins with an introduction that provides a broad conceptual orientation to the piece. When appropriate, we have included a historical framework, discussing the import of the article and giving a sense of what social psychology was like at the time the article was written. These introductions not only show how the field has progressed and changed but also point out how the various parts of the field form a cohesive whole.
Each article is followed by a series of questions designed to promote recall of the information that is presented and to consolidate the material. These questions are also meant to raise intriguing issues and challenge assumptions that readers may have developed. Most important, they are designed to make readers think critically about the articles' content.
READING ABOUT EXPERIMENTS IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Each year researchers conduct thousands of empirical studies on topics related to social psychology. One of the challenges that face students who are just beginning to learn about the field is how to locate articles, chapters, and other reports of studies that are relevant to their interests. The goal of this section is to introduce you to the many outlets that social psychologists use to present their research findings. We begin by briefly describing five sources of psychological information — textbooks, professional conferences, empirical articles, academic books and review articles, and the popular press — and then focus on the most important source: the empirical article. As you will see, each type has its advantages and disadvantages.
Undergraduate textbooks. You are probably reading or have read one or two undergraduate textbooks about psychology. Such texts present a large amount of information in a relatively small amount of space. They are ideal for people who are first learning about psychology or one of its many subareas. However, as a secondary source, texts are somewhat limited. One limitation is that they represent the author(s)'s interpretation of other people's work. Although textbook authors strive to be accurate, occasionally their own biases creep into their work. Additionally, because new discoveries are made every day, you have to read primary sources to stay on top of the field.
Professional conferences. Perhaps the best way to learn about the most current research in psychology is to attend professional conferences. New findings are often presented at professional conferences before they appear anywhere else. If you are unable to attend a conference, you may be able to read a report of the talks that were given. Most psychologists will, upon request, send a paper version of their talk to people who were unable to hear them in person. Additionally, some organizations routinely publish all of the talks presented at their conferences.
Empirical articles. Although data are often presented first at a professional conference, the most important medium for communicating new findings is the empirical article. The empirical article is especially important because it is the only place where research projects are described in complete detail. This makes journals invaluable as primary sources. It is impossible to evaluate a research project fairly without reading the empirical article that describes the work.
Empirical journal articles are an important source of information for another reason. Before a journal will agree to publish an article, the research must pass a rigorous review process. Articles submitted for possible publication are sent to an action editor who is knowledgeable in the field that the article discusses. Action editors read the article themselves and then send it out to two or more experts on the issues raised in the article. Only after the reviewers and action editor are satisfied that an article is methodologically sound and will make an important contribution to the field will they agree to publish it. Many of the top journals reject 80 to 90 percent of the articles that researchers submit for publication. Because of this thorough review process, articles that journals agree to publish are likely to be largely fair and sound.
Unfortunately, empirical articles are somewhat difficult to read if you are not a psychologist yourself. In the next section we outline the typically empirical article. Knowing how empirical articles are organized will help get the most out of reading them. And you will soon get a chance to practice your new skills: Readings 7, 9, 13, 15, 17, 21, and 23 in this volume are reprints of empirical articles from some of the top journals in social psychology.
Academic books and review articles. After a researcher has published several empirical articles on the same general topic, he or she may decide to write a paper that summarizes the most important or interesting of his or her findings. There are two outlets for such reviews: review articles and academic books. Many academic books are collections of edited chapters, with each chapter being written by a different researcher. Some authors of book chapters and review articles focus primarily on one person's research (usually their own). Readings 10, 18, 20, and 22 are examples of articles that primarily review the author's own work. In contrast, some authors of book chapters and review articles focus less on their own work and instead attempt to give a complete picture of all the latest research in a particular area. Readings 11 and 27 are examples of this type of review.
The popular press. Researchers whose work catches the attention of editors of journals and of edited books will also likely catch the attention of journalists writing for the popular press. It may surprise you to know that many of the magazines and newspapers you read each day are extremely interested in following the major developments in psychology. However, not all magazines are careful when selecting what research to report. Like research in any field, not all psychological studies are as valid as others. Some newspapers and magazines ensure that the research they report is of the highest quality; some others are less careful in their choices. The popular magazine articles that are represented in this book, such as those from The Atlantic Monthly (Reading 6), Scientific American (Reading 8), Newsweek (Reading 12) and Science (Reading 27), are among those that are usually, although not invariably, trustworthy. Leading newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times are also respectable sources of information about the field of psychology.
Reading Empirical Articles
As discussed earlier, the empirical article is the most important medium for communicating new information to the larger psychological community. Unfortunately, because their intended audience is other psychologists, empirical articles can be somewhat confusing to budding psychologists such as yourself. In order to aid you when you begin to read the empirical articles included in this volume, we discuss their main features. Empirical articles have five main sections: Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion. The goal of the Abstract is to give the reader a very brief review of the entire article. The Abstract lets us know what topic the article addresses, what specific hypotheses were tested and how, and whether the hypotheses were supported by the data. Because of strict word limits placed on Abstracts, they can be overly terse. Consequently, you should read Abstracts carefully (and possibly more than once) in order to understand fully what the article is setting out to do.
The Introduction is the beginning of the article proper. The Introduction is typically not explicitly identified by a heading. We know we are reading the Introduction because it comes first; we know the Introduction is over when the Method section begins. (All further sections of the article are identified by headings.) The goal of the Introduction is to introduce the readers to the general problem being studied, to review relevant prior research, and to interest readers in the area being addressed. For example, in the Introduction to Reading 7, the authors tell us that they are interested in how people know when they are experiencing an emotion. After reviewing previous research in this area, the authors explain that the goal of their research is to find support for a new theory of emotion identification. If at this point we find ourselves interested in emotion identification, then one of the goals of the Introduction has been accomplished.
In the Method section, the authors explain in detail how the research' was conducted. The goal of the Method section is to give readers sufficient detail so that they could repeat, or replicate, the study themselves. Replication is an important part of the scientific process, so the Method section must be complete and exact. If the experimenters used only women as participants in their study, we, the readers, need to know this. If participants' attitudes were surveyed, we need to know the exact wording of the questions. If several types of attitudes were measured, we need to know in what order this was done.
In order to help organize all of this information, the Method section is itself divided into subsections. All articles include what is called a Participant (or what was previously called a Subject) subsection. (The American Psychological Association, which determines the linguistic style for psychological research articles, now recommends that people who participate in experiments be called "participants" rather than the previously employed "subjects." You'll see that both terms are used in the readings in this volume, reflecting when the article was written.)
In the Participant section, the authors describe the people who took part in the study. This typically includes stating how many people participated, as well as their age and gender. If a study made use of a complicated apparatus (e.g., the reel-racing device described in Reading 1), this will be described in an Apparatus subsection. If the study employed a newly developed questionnaire that would not be available to the average reader, selected questions may be reprinted in a Materials subsection.
The final, and most important, Method subsection is Procedure. The Procedure subsection explains how the experiment was conducted in a step-by-step fashion, beginning with the moment the participants arrived for the study. After reading the Procedure subsection, the reader should know what it was like to have been a participant in the study. More important, the reader should be able to replicate the study in exact detail. The Method section also explains what data were collected from participants in the study.
After the data are analyzed, the results of the study are summarized in the next section—Results. The goal of the Results section is to explain the experimenter's findings in two ways: first in English, second in statistics. Reporting statistics is important because it allows readers to decide for themselves whether the authors) performed the most appropriate analyzes. For now, assume that the journal editors have done their jobs and weeded out articles containing statistical flaws. Concentrate, instead, on the conclusions the author has drawn about the tests that have been carried out. As you become more knowledgeable about statistics, you will probably focus more on the statistics themselves, drawing your own conclusions instead of automatically accepting the authors' interpretations.
After reporting the study's findings in the Results section, the authors will next explain the practical significance of their findings in the Discussion section. The goal of the Discussion section is twofold: to remind the reader of the issues being considered and to explain how the current study has extended our knowledge of these issues. For example, in Reading 9, the authors compared participants' physical health after participating in the study. Reading the Results section we learn that some participants were healthier after being in the study. Yet after spending perhaps 15 to 30 minutes examining and considering the exact methods and findings of the study, readers may have forgotten why this is theoretically interesting. In the Discussion section, the authors remind us that their findings are important because they contribute to our understanding of the Freudian notion of catharsis.
Although empirical articles are written in something like a story format—with a beginning (Introduction), middle (Method and Results), and end (Discussion)—it is not essential that you read them in that order. Some people find it easier to read the Discussion immediately after the Introduction and before the Results. Some even skip the Introduction altogether and begin with the Method. However, we suggest that you first try reading articles as they were intended — first Abstract, then Introduction, then Method, then Results, and then Discussion. Later you might want to experiment with different strategies.
USING THESE READINGS
These readings can be used in several ways. Some professors may wish their students to focus on classic selections, whereas others may choose to focus on the contemporary readings. Some may wish to assign the questions at the end of each reading. These readings can be used to supplement any social psychology text, but they specifically reflect the 15 chapters of Social Psychology, Third Edition, the introduction to social psychology written by Robert S. Feldman.
In sum, Classic and Contemporary Readings in Social Psychology provides a worthwhile supplement for students being introduced to the field of social psychology. We welcome any feedback that readers are willing to provide and encourage you to write to us. Erik Coats is at the Dept. of Psychology, Vassar College Box 214, 124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY 12604, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Robert Feldman is at the Dept. of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, email: email@example.com.
Improvements in the second and third edition of this reader owe a great deal to the editors and production staff at Prentice Hall, especially Bill Webber and Jennifer Blackwell. Their many suggestions have improved the quality of this book in countless ways. We would also like to thank our students at Vassar College and at the University of Massachusetts. Their comments and those of the three reviewers Glenda J. Sehested, Augustana College, Cheryl Armstrong, Fitchburg State College, and Traci Giuliano, Southwestern University guided many of our decisions in updating this reader.
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