A 100 years of certitude? Social psychology, the experimental method and the management of scientific uncertainty


Alex Haslam or Craig McGarty, Division of Psychology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia (e-mail: Alex.Haslam@anu.edu.au or Craig.McGarty@anu.edu.au).


For at least 100 years the experimental method has been used to add scientific rigour to the process of conducting social psychological research. More specifically, experiments have been used to reduce methodological uncertainty surrounding the causal relationships between variables. In this way the method has proved particularly useful in demonstrating the impact of social contextual variables over-and-above individual differences. However, problems with the method have arisen because over time experimentalists have tended (1) to define uncertainty too narrowly, (2) to emphasize uncertainty reduction, but (3) to neglect the equally important process of uncertainty creation. This has contributed to the normalization of social psychology as a science but also made the discipline more conservative and circumscribed. It is argued that experimentalists need to address broader metatheoretical and political uncertainties in order to rediscover the experiment's potency as a tool of revolutionary and progressive science.