Applying Social Psychology to International Social Issues


  • Thomas F. Pettigrew

    1. University of California, Santa Cruz
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    • THOMAS F. PETTIGREW is a career-long specialist in intergroup relations, and is currently Research Professor of Social Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1967–68, he served as president of SPSSI. Later, the Society awarded him both the Kurt Lewin Award (1987) and the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Research Award (with Joanne Martin, 1988). Pettigrew's books include Profile of the Negro American (1964), Racially Separate or Together? (1971), The Sociology of Race Relations (1980), and How to Think Like a Social Scientist (1996).


This article discusses six key issues that arise when social psychology applies its insights to international affairs. Three involve the applications themselves. Effective applications must connect with the macro level of analysis, attend to social problems long overlooked by the discipline, and operate consistently across cultures and societies. For this last point, two broad predictions—the universality and mediation hypotheses—are advanced that assert that the same social psychological processes can lead to diverse outcomes in different settings. The remaining issues involve the political context of applications made in the public arena. Such efforts must avoid victim blaming; be made available throughout the status hierarchy, not just to elites; and recognize that the public policy arena is scalding hot and controversial. Throughout the discussion, Kelman's remarkable applications to the search for peace in the Middle East illustrate the points. The article closes with remedial suggestions for the future.