1st Edition

The Use and Misuse of the Experimental Method in Social Psychology A Critical Examination of Classical Research

By Augustine Brannigan Copyright 2021
    228 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    228 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book critically examines the work of a number of pioneers of social psychology, including legendary figures such as Kurt Lewin, Leon Festinger, Muzafer Sherif, Solomon Asch, Stanley Milgram, and Philip Zimbardo. Augustine Brannigan argues that the reliance of these psychologists on experimentation has led to questions around validity and replication of their studies.

    The author explores new research and archival work relating to these studies and outlines a new approach to experimentation that repudiates the use of deception in human experiments and provides clues to how social psychology can re-articulate its premises and future lines of research. Based on the author’s 2004 work The Rise and Fall of Social Psychology, in which he critiques the experimental methods used, the book advocates for a return to qualitative methods to redeem the essential social dimensions of social psychology.

    Covering famous studies such as the Stanford Prison Experiment, Milgram’s studies of obedience, Sherif's Robbers Cave, and Rosenhan's exposé of psychiatric institutions, this is essential and fascinating reading for students of social psychology, and the social sciences. It’s also of interest to academics and researchers interested in engaging with a critical approach to classical social psychology, with a view to changing the future of this important discipline.

    Preface Acknowledgements 1. The Sunset on a Golden Age: Reflections on the Gap between Promise and Practice 2. Crisis and Controversy in Classical Social Psychology 3. Experiments as Theater: The Art of Scientific Demonstration in Sherif and Asch 4. Scientific Demonstration in Milgram, Zimbardo, and Rosenhan: More Evidence from the Archives 5. Bystander Research: Plumbing the Psyche of the indifferent Samaritan 6. Social Psychology Engineers Wealth and Intelligence: The Hawthorne and Pygmalion Effects 7. A Guide to the Myth of Media Effects 8. Gender and Psychology: From Feminism to Darwinism 9. The Failures of Experimental Social Psychology in the Classical Period 10. The Replication Crisis: Social Psychology in the Age of Retraction. Epilogue: Looking Forward: Scientific Life After Experiments References Index


    Augustine Brannigan is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Calgary, Canada. In his career as a professor in the Department of Sociology he taught social psychology, social theory, criminology, and criminal justice. 

    "Brannigan's work has long been known for its incisive criticisms of the classic social psychology experiments. Those experiments are still taught in psychology classes and invoked in popular culture today. This book provides a very interesting way to think about the lessons from those experiments as moral parables or proverbs, rather than empirical scientific findings. It is particularly valuable, since social psychology has fallen even further in recent years, as the 'replication crisis' has further exposed the field's attraction for dubious findings, and sometimes fraudulent practices."Michael Lynch, Professor Emeritus, Department of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University, US

    "Augustine Brannigan’s The Use and Misuse of the Experimental Method in Social Psychology: A Critical Examination of Classical Research is a seminally important volume. At a time when pre-eminent institutions such as the National Institute of Health, along with entire scientific and social scientific disciplines, are trying to re-seat their research due to the kinds of foundational problems that Brannigan explores, this book could not be more timely. This volume is headed for critical acclaim."Barbara Oakley, Distinguished Professor, Oakland University, US

    "This comprehensive and insightful volume critically analyzes many of the most iconic studies in the history of experimental social psychology. Thoroughly researched and carefully argued, Brannigan draws on the latest archival investigations in the field to demonstrate the degree to which these famous studies were dramaturgical enactments of preconceived understandings rather than new scientific discoveries. Effectively linking past and present, Brannigan’s book also examines the contemporary replication crisis while questioning the value of experimentation in social psychology. Highly recommended."—Ian Nicholson, Professor of Psychology, St. Thomas University, Canada

    "The epistemological problems of experimental social psychology have left the field in shambles ever since its first ‘crisis’ in the 1960s and 70s. Brannigan’s book makes abundantly clear that these fundamental concerns have not been addressed and continue to haunt a form of psychology that lacks a foundation in anything resembling science. He makes a compelling case that it is time for a new social psychology that lives up to its promise as a tool for understanding human social life."—Henderikus Stam, University of Calgary, Canada