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College sophomores in the laboratory: Influences of a narrow data base on social psychology's view of human nature

By David O. Sears

Abstract

For the 2 decades prior to 1960, published research in social psychology was based on a wide variety of subjects and research sites. Content analyses show that since then such research has overwhelmingly been based on college students tested in academic laboratories on academiclike tasks. How might this heavy dependence on one narrow data base have biased the main substantive conclusions of sociopsychological research in this era? Research on the full life span suggests that, compared with older adults, college students are likely to have less-crystallized attitudes, less-formulated senses of self, stronger cognitive skills, stronger tendencies to comply with authority, and more unstable peer group relationships. The laboratory setting is likely to exaggerate all these differences. These peculiarities of social psychology's predominant data base may have contributed to central elements of its portrait of human nature. According to this view people (a) are quite compliant and their behavior is easily socially influenced, (b) readily change their attitudes and (c) behave inconsistently with them, and (d) do not rest their self-perceptions on introspection. The narrow data base may also contribute to this portrait of human nature's (e) strong emphasis on cognitive processes and to its lack of emphasis on (f) personality dispositions, (g) material self-interest, (h) emotionally based irrationalities, (i) group norms, and (j) stage-specific phenomena. The analysis implies the need bot

Year: 1986
OAI identifier: oai:CiteSeerX.psu:10.1.1.313.9470
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