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The old college try falls short.

The old college try falls short

In general, people are quite compliant and their behavior is easily changed by social pressures. Their self-esteem is fragile and their attitudes, which they are often out of touch with, have only a minor effect on their behavior. Also of little importance are personality dispositions, material self-interest, codes of conduct and thinking clouded by irrational emotions.

That, at any rate, is the picture of humanity presented by much published research in social psychology over the past 25 years, says psychologist David O. Sears of the University of California at Los Angeles. "To caricature the point, contemporary social psychology ... presents the human race as composed of lone, bland, compliant wimps who specialize in paper-and-pencil tests," contends Sears in the September JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY. The person of strong passions and prejudices who belongs to tightly knit family and ethnic groups and who changes and matures with age gets short shrift in this profile, he asserts.

The problem, according to Sears, is that research has concentrated on college students tested in laboratories for rational, deliberate types of thinking and behavior. In a content analysis of articles in three leading social psychology journals in 1980 and 1985, Sears found that about three-quarters of the reports fit into that mold. Research shows that college students, compared with older adults, have less-formulated attitudes and senses of self, stronger tendencies to comply with authority and more unstable peer relationships, says Sears; these differences are often amplified in the laboratory.

A better approach, he suggests, would be to broaden the college student data base with studies of a variety of adult groups in their natural surroundings.
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Title Annotation:criticism of research in social psychology
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 27, 1986
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