The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Press release: Sound science and strong advocacy still guiding SPSSI after 75 years

SPSSI press release, 18 July 2011

Sound science and strong advocacy still guiding SPSSI after 75 years

As the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) prepares to celebrate its 75th birthday at an historic gala in Washington, DC on August 3, there is a wealth of achievement to look back on. It is a powerful legacy that continues to shape science and social policy today.

This SPSSI legacy has proved immensely effective in inspiring academics and decision-makers around the world to apply empirical research to today’s social problems, and in getting this research to policy makers. In the year of its founding in 1936, 17 per cent of the American Psychological Association’s members signed up to join this new organization that promised to make psychology relevant to the problems of the day.

Since that time, SPSSI has frequently presented findings so that civil society institutions and government can enact policies that give individuals an equal chance in life. This bridge between information and social justice is vital. In the words of Princeton University Professor, Susan Fiske, “in democratic society we have to work with everyone’s opinions but this presupposes an informed public.”

Fiske herself has made a commitment to bringing science into the conversation including testifying as an expert witness on gender-based stereotyping in the U.S. Supreme Court: “In our media market of ideas, enjoyment of scientific factoids and intuitive discussion is good, but so much is not accurate. Science needs a distinctive voice and a strong platform from which to speak.”

Scientific integrity and justice for all have long been SPSSI hallmarks. In 1952, SPSSI members wrote the Social Science Statement used in the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which led to the racial desegregation of American schools.

Emeritus Professor at Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo, says that in dialogue with science, society “educates itself about the value of diversity and harmony. Today people are living longer, and there is increased movement from the country to the city and across national borders. Scientists can try to understand these phenomena and share their information so as to be light-bearers of knowledge that benefits all society, not just the privileged or powerful.”

In 1967, Martin Luther King was invited by SPSSI to speak at the Convention of the American Psychological Association where he called on behavioral scientists to study the amelioration of divisiveness based on race, a longstanding focus of SPSSI’s work.

Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, Robert Kahn, echoes this. “Social psychologists can do more to explain the causes of inequality. The needs of society must lead us rather than the vogue of funding agencies,” says Kahn.

For Kahn, the findings of psychology on these issues are highly relevant to policy, especially today. He says that “for many, the economic crisis has challenged beliefs about how society functions. Social psychology offers measurement of our habits and values. One of these measures is happiness but the quality of life includes a number of others, among them longevity and involvement in meaningful activity.”

Effective policy creates new opportunities for members of society. According to Stanford Professor, Geoff Cohen, “one of the things that we have to contribute is an empirical brand of philosophy; what psychologist Lee Ross calls the ideal of open minded skepticism, rather than ideology. Of course, scientists have their own biases but there is a method that allows them to be more impartial. Good theory with analysis of the underlying problems.”

SPSSI’s mission is to communicate sound science to make sound policy. On 3 August 2011 it will celebrate its 75th anniversary in Washington, DC. For more information visit

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator

Founded in 1936, SPSSI is a group of over 3000 scientists from psychology and related fields and others who share a common interest in research on the psychological aspects of important social and policy issues. In various ways, SPSSI seeks to bring theory and practice into focus on human problems of the group, the community, and nations, as well as the increasingly important problems that have no national boundaries.

Geoffrey Cohen is James T. March Professor in Organizational Studies in Education and Business, and Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.

Susan Fiske is Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology at Princeton University.

Robert Kahn is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Michigan.

Philipp Zimbardo is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.

Back to SPSSI Policy News

Email a Friend Print this Page Give us your feedback

Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin