Carolyn Wood Sherif: Founder of the Society of the Psychology of Women

Carolyn Wood Sherif was born in Indiana in 1922. Sherif’s family greatly valued education, as her father was a professor at Purdue University. She graduated from Purdue after studying science in a historical and humanistic context. Next, she received her master’s at the university of Iowa. After graduation, Sherif reached out to a social psychologist at Princeton University, Hadley Cantril, for advice about her future. He offered her an opportunity to research with Muzafer Sherif, she accepted. Sherif was not permitted to attend Princeton as a graduate student because she was a women. She took classes at Columbia University and researched attitude formation and intergroup relations with Muzafer at Princeton. In 1945, Sherif and Muzafer married.

Sherif continued to research with her husband, but she was often not taken seriously in the academic community, perhaps because Muzafer overshadowed her. Their most well known study came about in 1954, known as the Robbers Cave Experiment. It studied intergroup conflict and cooperation of boys at a summer camp. The experiment suggested that competition leads to conflict and group problem solving leads to unity. This study is often referenced in the social psychology community.
After having three daughters, Sherif went back to school at the University of Texas to obtain her PhD. After she received her PhD, she worked on a project that primarily focused on self-concept and the goals of youth. It was funded by the United States Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Next, she began research at the Institute of Group Relations in Oklahoma. Much of her work here focused on youth, reference groups, attitudes, and social judgment.

Near the end of her career, she began to focus on the psychology of gender. She studied gender bias in psychological research, gender roles, identity, and reproduction. Her increased interest in feminist psychology lead Sherif to be a founder of Division 35 of the American Psychological Association, also called the Society of the Psychology of Women. She held the position of president from 1979- 1980. Sherif was also given the Association for Women in Psychology’s Distinguished Publication Award in 1981 for her amazing work.


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Changing Attitudes Towards Girls and Women: Leta Stetter Hollingworth

Leta Stetter Hollingworth was born in 1886 into a world that viewed women as inferior to men. Hollingworth initially focused her career on the psychology of women, but later shifted her focus to education. She first went to school to be a teacher, but after marrying Harry Levi Hollingworth, she was no longer allowed to teach according to societal rules. Hollingworth was a homemaker for about two years when she decided that it was not fulfilling enough for her. With the encouragement of her husband, she went back to school and received her PhD in education at Columbia in 1916. Shortly after, she became New York City’s very first civil service psychologist and obtained the position of chief of the psychological lab at Bellevue Hospital.
Hollingworth began work with E. L. Thorndike. Thorndike was a believer in the variability hypothesis. The variability hypothesis states that men exhibit greater variation than women on both physical and psychological traits. Hollingworth decided to disprove this hypothesis with empirical research. Her findings suggested that if there was a difference in variability, it would have favored women.

After tackling the variability hypothesis, Hollingworth decided to write her dissertation on the belief that women could not be as productive as men during menstruation. She tested men’s and women’s performance on cognitive, perceptual and motor tasks for three months. Hollingworth found no empirical evidence proving a relationship between poor performance and the menstrual cycle.

Thorndike, her mentor, was moved by her research and gave her a position at Columbia Teachers College. While she was teaching, she also began to study children of extreme intelligence and coined the term “gifted.” She wrote several books on education: The Psychology of Subnormal Children (1920), Special Talents and Defects (1923), and The Psychology of the Adolescent (1928). Her topics ranged from the belief that children who struggled in school often were smart, but had problems with adjustment to how to successfully educate gifted students.

Hollingworth continued her research on gifted children up until her death in 1939. Her last study was published after her death, completed by her husband Harry Levi Hollingworth.


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Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Clark, born in 1914, grew up in Harlem, N.Y.. Clark was a psychologist and a Civil Rights Activist. He is most well known for the famous doll studies conducted by himself and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark. The thesis behind this study, “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Preschool Children,” was actually written by Mamie while she was obtaining her master’s degree. Clark took an interest in her research and became a partner in the doll studies, suggesting that they also look at self-identification in African American children.

During the doll study, Clark and his wife would ask African American and White children to show them a doll based on a series of statements:

  • “Show me the doll that’s a white doll.”
  • “Show me the doll that’s a brown doll.”
  • “Show me the doll that you like to play with.”
  • “Show me the doll that’s a nice doll.”
  • “Show me the doll that’s a bad doll.”
  • “Show me the doll that looks like you.”

Clark explained in an interview that some African American children were so upset with their answer to the last question that they would cry, leave the room, or refuse to answer. The findings from this experiment showed the negative effects segregation had on African American children. While studying self-identification, they also found high amounts of internalized racism.
Their findings were used in the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, ending racial segregation in American public schools.
In 1946, Clark and his wife opened the Northside Center for Child Development in his hometown of Harlem. It was one of the first child guidance centers in the area to offer families psychological and casework services. The Northside Center for Child Development is still running today and has been helping children develop resilience, confidence, and self-worth for over 70 years.

The Clarks were the first African Americans to receive a PhD in psychology from Columbia. Clark was head of the Board of Education in New York City. He worked hard to integrate schools, decrease class sizes, improve curriculum, and update facilities. He was also the first African American president of the American Psychological Association.

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Social Psychology Quiz

Social Psychology Quiz

1 / 3

True or False: In the early 60s, Stanley Milgram found that most people would administer a lethal electric shock to someone if they were ordered to do so.

2 / 3

According to Zimbardo regarding the findings from the Stanford Prison Experiment, guards behaved aggressively because of:

3 / 3

Solomon Asch’s line experiment found that approximately ⅓ of college students would:

Your score is

The average score is 0%


Learned Behaviors: Bobo Doll’s Prominent Place in Psychology

In 1961, researchers Albert Bandura, Dorothea Ross and Sheila A. Ross published an article in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology titled: “Transmission of Aggression through Imitation of Aggressive Models”. This study helped many begin to understand one of the many aspects of aggression.

In this famous study, the researchers had 36 boys and 36 girls who were in the Stanford University Nursery. These children were between the ages of three to six years. In the experimental design, the children were placed into different groups. Below is a diagram of the groups:

Participants grouping. Credit:
Participants grouping. Credit:

As you can see, the children were either placed in the control group with no adult model, or one of the groups with an aggressive or non-aggressive model. The children placed with the aggressive model watched an adult, either male or female, in a room with toys. In this scenario, the adult was aggressive towards a specific toy, Bobo Doll. The adults would hit Bobo with a hammer, throw it in the air, and say hostile comments toward the inflated clown. The group that had a non-aggressive model, either male or female, watched the adult play with the toys quietly, while they ignored the Bobo Doll. The control group did not have a model to witness either aggressive or non-aggressive behaviors.

After the children had watched the video of the adult’s behavior or not watched for the control group, each of the children were taken individually to a room with appealing toys. However, as soon as each child started to play, the experimenter would enter and say that they needed to use the toys for other children. This part of the experiment was meant to increase aggression in all groups.

Lastly, the children were taken to a similar room that they had witnessed the adult model’s in, depending on their group. The room had both non-aggressive and aggressive toys for the children to play with for 20 minutes, while being observed.

Bobo Doll Interactions. Credit:
Bobo Doll Interactions. Credit:

The children who had witnessed an aggressive adult model were significantly more imitative and aggressive that those children who were in the control group or did not witness an aggressive model. This study went on to help support Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, which explains that children learn through watching others, including their caregivers. To hear and see some of the results yourself, watch this video:

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The Price of Beliefs

It is basic nature to view ourselves in the best light possible. However, when we act in ways which do not align with our attitudes, it can lead to a feeling of discomfort. This is explained by Leon Festinger’s (1957) theory of cognitive dissonance which demonstrates how tension is experienced when behavior and attitude are inconsistent.

Festinger’s (1957) theory has been the subject of countless experiments to further understand the way in which individuals cope with tension. The results of these experiments have been beneficial for understanding persuasive arguments, social justice, and prejudice.

There are three methods to reduce this feeling of discomfort and tension when experiencing cognitive dissonance.

  1. Changing the behavior.
  2. Attempting to justify the behavior through changing the cognition.
  3. Attempting to justify the behavior by adding a new cognition.

Comic depicting cognitive dissonance
Comic depicting cognitive dissonance

For example, imagine you are watching Netflix rather than working on homework. You experience tension because you know you should be working on homework but are actively choosing not to. In order to reduce the tension of behavior and attitude being inconsistent, you will do some combination of these three things:

  1. Change the behavior by not watching that next episode and working on homework instead.
  2. Change the attitude by thinking it is okay to be watching Netflix because homework is stressful.
  3. The third option is to add a cognition such as telling yourself you never have time to relax and it is good to take time for yourself.

By using one or more of these three methods, cognitive dissonance will be reduced and you will feel less tension.

By justifying the attitude or the behavior, individuals are able to reduce the tension and better able to cope with the inconsistencies. The internal justification provides a reason and explanation. Every time we make decisions, we are engaging in dissonance. Many times there are doubts about the decision and there is contemplation for alternative options.

It is important to be aware of the methods to resolve the feeling of dissonance and how it impacts attitude and beliefs.

Dr. Bo Bennett further explains the theory of cognitive dissonance.



Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance, Row Peterson.

The Power of a Situation: Prisoner 819 Did a Bad Thing

In 1971, Philip Zimbardo conducted a highly controversial experiment that would become infamous. His research question: Why were prison guards violent? What drove them to violence? Was it their personalities? Was it their environment? In order to study this, Dr. Zimbardo created a prison-like environment in the basement of the Psychology building at Stanford University.

There were 10 prisoners and 11 guards, who were recruited through a newspaper ad (below). These participant were all randomly assigned to their roles, prisoner or prison guard. Zimbardo himself would be a researcher, but also play the role of Prison Warden.

Prison Experiment
Prison Experiment Ad. Credit:

The Prisoners

The participants who were assigned prisoner were actually arrested at their own home. However, there was absolutely no warning (which actually broke the consent form the participants signed prior to the experiment beginning). They were handcuffed, had their finger prints taken, and processed like real criminals would be at the police station. Then, they were blindfolded and driven to the makeshift prison at the university. Prisoners were held in small cell rooms, with two other prisoners. Upon arrival, the prisoners were strip searched, had their possessions taken away from them, and were given prison clothes. On their clothes/uniform, there was an ID code. From that point forward, they were only addressed as their ID number. This is how Zimbardo and the other researchers began the processes of deindividualization, or trying to get the prisoners to lose their sence of self.

Stanford Prison. Credit:

The Guards

The guards, on the other hand, were split into groups and given shifts each day. They were dressed in matching uniforms, a club in hand, and dark sunglasses (to inhibit eye contact with prisoners). The researchers told them to do what, in their opinion, was needed in order to maintain obiedience and structure within the prison. Prison guards quickly began to harass and insult the prisoners, verbally, as well as give them demeaning tasks meant to strip them of their dignity.

Prisoners were beginning to follow the rules strictly, in fear of having a punishment given to them. Prisoners became submissive to the guards, which in turn made the guards more aggressive. On day two, prisoners created a rebellion, which endly badly for them. The prisoners were harassed, and the leader of the rebellion was placed in solitary confinement as punishment. One prisoner was actually released after a day and a half into the experiment. He was beginning to show signs of depression. Eventually, other prisoners had to leave the experiment early, due to emotional distress that could have had long-term effects on their psychological state. After six days, the experiment was forced to shut down early.

Guards Stanford Prison
Guards. Credit:

The results of this study show that the power of a situation can heavily impact whether someone will conform to certain roles or not. These findings support Dr. Zimbardo’s hypothesis of the situation being the strongest driving force for prison guards, rather than their personalities. As for the prisoners, they became submissive because of the deindividualization process and their learned dependency on the guards. They lost their sense of self by being referred to as a number and not having their personal belongings. During interviews after the experiment had concluded, both groups of participants were surprised with the way that they behaved.

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