The use of psychological knowledge in society


  • Understanding genocide: The role of psychologists in advising the UN on genocide prevention
  • Understanding the events in Abu Ghraib: the role of psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his defense of American soldiers who committed human rights abuses against Iraqi prisoners.
  • Social engineering; social impact theory
  • Reduction of prejudice: techniques such as “jigsaw puzzle technique” (Aronson 1971) to reduce racial tension in classroom in Texas. However, Sherif (1954/61) reminds us that whilst attitude change (e.g. combat prejudice) is greater following small group discussion compared with a lecture style presentation (Lewon’s studies in the 1940s), this finding may only be true of Western or indeed US participants. He cites “one of the studies in the UNESCO project in India (Murphy, 1953)” where the objective was to modify prejudicial attitudes between students of different castes; given the differing cultural context where the norm was to listen and follow the lead of an authority figure rather than construct one’s own reality through social interaction, “the greatest attitude changes arose as a result of a lecture method using emotional appeals”, e.g. “Contrary to our original expectation and hypothesis, these young boys do not seem to be in a position to exploit fully the discussion technique, in bettering their social relationships. Does it indicate that our boys have got to be used to the democratic ways of discussion and at present prefer to be told what are the right attitudes rather than to be allowed to talk them out?” (Sherif 1954/61).


  • Understanding the impact of exposure to violent media, including television and gaming
  • The development of aversion therapy and its use in managing alcoholism but also controversially in conversion therapy, used with people who are gay and seek help to change their sexuality
  • Understanding the role of social and psychological factors in substance abuse
  • The devleopment of programmes for behaviour management such as token econmy
  • The development of treatments for phobias such as systematic desensitisation, flooding and implosion


  • The development of treatments for mental disorders, e.g drug treatments and CBT for schizophrenia and uni-polar depression