Until relatively recently, British academics teaching introductory social psychology had little alternative but to recommend one of a large number of US-published textbooks to students. Often these are so ethnocentrically North American that students complain they are unable to appreciate, or even understand, the examples and situations referred to.
Many of these books also fail to recognise the contribution of social psychological research outside the United States. According to the authors of Social Psychology across Cultures , the best-selling US textbook, Social Psychology: Understanding Human Interaction by Robert Baron and Donn Byrne (1994), contains around 1,700 citations, of which just over 100 refer to studies conducted outside North America. This proportion is typical of other social psychology texts, but not consistent with citation patterns in natural science. In 1980, 44 per cent of all citations by US natural scientists referred to foreign publications.
Social Psychology , by Elliott Aronson et al , is typical of North American textbooks. Each chapter begins with a real-life vignette, while shorter vignettes are used throughout, and these are almost exclusively North American. One only has to read as far as page four to find a reference to a fraternity "hazing ritual", with no subsequent explanation. The typical British student might be aware of the fraternities, but is unlikely to be familiar with the term hazing.
Such culturally specific examples detract from the book and introduce unnecessary ambiguity before the student even tackles the psychology.
Aronson et al's coverage of the research base is also heavily North American. Prominent European work is overlooked and major areas such as social identity theory and social representations are not mentioned.
Sixteen chapters offer: an introduction, methodology, social cognition, social perception, self-knowledge, self-justification and self-esteem, attitudes and attitude change, conformity, group processes, interpersonal attraction, prosocial behaviour, aggression, prejudice, social psychology and health, social psychology and the environment, social psychology and the law.
Rather than writing separate chapters on culture and gender, the authors claim to have integrated these issues in each chapter. The textbook has a number of ancillary options for instructors and students: a video, colour transparencies, instructor's manual and resource kit, a test bank, study guide and website. The book is in colour, with a wide variety of illustrations.
As an extensive summary of North American research in social psychology, Aronson et al fulfil a purpose in a thorough and scholarly manner. But as an accessible text for UK undergraduates, or a summary of European research in social psychology, it fails completely.
The international edition of David Myers's Social Psychology is another North American textbook widely adopted in the US. It offers a variety of ancillary resources: resourcemanual, test items, video, PowerPoint slides, transparencies, CD-Rom and website. There is good use of illustrations and the use of colour is particularly effective.
The book is divided into four sections: on social thinking - the self, social beliefs and judgements, behaviour and attitudes; social influence - genes, culture and gender, conformity, persuasion, and group influence; social relations - prejudice, aggression, attraction and intimacy, altruism, conflict and peacemaking; and applied social psychology - deals with the clinic and the court.
Myers spent time at the University of St Andrews, and his interest in European social psychology has had some influence on this very readable book. It addresses issues of culture more than many North American textbooks, and has a slightly more representative coverage of European research.
Social Psychology , by Michael Hogg and Graham Vaughan, is one of a few introductory social psychology textbooks explicitly aimed at undergraduates in the UK and Europe. The authors integrate North American, Australian and European research in a style accessible to students in the UK and Europe. Each chapter begins with bullet points, focus questions and a key-terms glossary.
Definitions of key terms appear in the margins throughout each chapter and each ends with a summary. The substantial introductory chapter addresses both methodological and meta-theoretical issues, such as the "crisis" in social psychology, reductionism and positivism. A further 14 chapters cover social cognition and social thinking, causal attribution and social knowledge, nature and measurement of attitudes, changing attitudes, social influence, basic group processes, leadership and group decision-making, prejudice, intergroup behaviour, aggression, affiliation, attraction and love, pro-social behaviour, language and communication, the physical environment, and social behaviour.
Compared with North American textbooks, Hogg and Vaughan provide much more material on language, inter-group relations, minority influence and social identity and also more on culture, representations and discourse analysis than any US competitor. The manner in which all this is presented is more consistent with the higher level of detail and critical analysis required by undergraduate courses in the UK, and it can be strongly recommended for UK courses in social psychology at both first and second-year levels.
Social Psychology across Cultures is not a typical introductory textbook. It answers the questions that arise as a result of students' feelings of alienation towards typical US textbooks - does research conducted in the US really apply across all cultures?
The authors present an extremely readable and interesting introduction to cross-cultural social psychology and include an organisational perspective.
They state: "We wish to advance the case for a social and organisational psychology whose findings are known to be valid in all parts of the world" and explain that North American studies frequently yield different results when repeated elsewhere in the world.
They argue that research in social psychology needs to move toward designing studies in which variations in social context are assessed and are used to predict differences or similarities in the effects obtained.
The authors examine culture as a system of shared meanings and say the best conceptual frameworks available to guide cross-cultural research are provided by studies of value differences. They examine universal aspects of human behaviour, before addressing the issues of culture in the research concerned with the self and social cognition, communication and interpersonal relations, inter-group relations and organisational behaviour. The issues raised in these chapters are then focused in a chapter on the characteristics of cross-cultural interaction and another on the consequences of such interaction. A further chapter deals with indigenous psychologies and the concluding chapter examines the future of cross-cultural psychology.
This book should certainly be read by all North American social psychologists. It would also be suitable for introductory courses in cross-cultural psychology and courses in organisational psychology.
Diane Houston is lecturer in psychology, University of Kent.
Social Psychology. Sixth Edition
Author - David G. Myers
ISBN - 0 07 290217 5 and 0 07 1158405
Publisher - McGraw-Hill
Price - £64.99 and £24.99
Pages - 737