The social approach only became popular during the 20th century. It was employed by the US army during the Second World War in order to learn about persuasive techniques, which could then be used to get more people to join and fight for their country. But it took off more just after the war had ended, since many psychologists became interested in the complex social problems that troubled society. A lot of well-known studies, such as Milgram's on obedience were carried out in this period, since people were particularly interested both in the effect of current economic issues, and in Milgram's case in the behaviour of the Germans who had followed the Nazi party so blindly during the war. This approach often results in some of the most interesting conclusions, which fascinate many, and which often reach much further outside of the psychological community than those from other approaches due to their relation to wider society as a whole.
There are many well-known studies which follow this approach, but one of the most influential, perhaps, is Piliavin’s Subway Samaritan study. This piece of research was, like many at the time, based on current events in the news. After the murder of a young woman living in New York, Piliavin questioned why, since so many people reported seeing and hearing the murder, no one attempted to help, or even called the police. The study took place over a period of several months, in various subway carriages. A team of actors would enter the carriage. One would pretend to collapse during the journey, and the aim was to see how many bystanders would offer to help. In different studies, the ‘collapser’ would either act drunk, or act ill, walking with a cane. When acting drunk, they would receive less help, which showed that people are more likely to help someone if they believe the victim is worthy. Secondly, in some trials, another actor would come to the victim’s assistance themselves. The experiment found that when someone else helps the victim first, we will help them ourselves much more quickly and willingly. This effect was related back to the original murder case, since none of the witnesses wanted to be the first to act. In the larger scheme of things, this can also be linked to what is known as Diffusion of Responsibility. This is where in an emergency situation, the more other people around us there are, the less pressure we feel to intervene, since we feel like it is someone else's responsibility equally. This is why in larger groups, we are less likely to exhibit helping behaviours.
One thing that can certainly be said for this approach to psychology, is that it has many real-world applications and implications for everyday life, and is often found to be one of the most interesting fields of study to outsiders of the psychological community looking in. Though it may never be the main focus of psychological research, it is unlikely ever to leave us, since as human beings, we live in a social world, and it is impossible to deny the inevitable consequences this will have on our behaviour.
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