My social science career: Interview with Mike Hogg

As part of a series of occasional interviews with leading behavioral and social scientist Mike Hogg, Professor of Social Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, spoke to socialsciencespace about his career and influences in social science.

How did your interest in social science develop?

I originally trained at Birmingham and Bristol, doing research on social identity – how people derive a sense of who they are from the groups that they’re in. What got me interested in social psychology and in becoming an academic were my two Professors at Birmingham at the end of my undergraduate period – Ray Cochrane and Mick Billig. They really got me interested in research, in being an academic. Mick in particular got me interested in the notion of identity, groups, discrimination and so on.

At Bristol, I worked with Henri Tajfel and John Turner, they were the reason I went to Bristol for my PhD. There was a big group of us and John was a really tight, sharp thinker – he made me realize that to be a successful academic you had to think clearly; had to be on top of your facts. We designed experiments and studies and he would pick them to pieces and make me focus on how I asked questions, how I designed experiments and studies in terms of making sure it was psychologically real to people.

It’s those people right at the beginning, when you’re a PhD student or in your first job, that set the frame for everything that follows.

Tell me about some of the developments in your field that you think have been most influential

My roots are in European social psychology, but I have been away for a long time and now have a more global perspective. The biggest things that have happened are the things that came out of the resurrection of European social psychology after the war. For twenty years it was devastated by the infrastructure having been destroyed and everyone having left. It started to come into its fore in the early to mid 60s – around the time SAGE started.

The work of Henri Tajfel and John Turner on social identity theory has been massively influential in terms of the way in which people look at the psychology of groups. It’s probably the most highly-cited theory in social psychology – competing against things like cognitive dissonance. It arose from a perspective in social psychology that looked at intergroup relations and conflicts, rather than at the individual (the more American style of social psychology).

SAGE was known in social psychology as the methodology books publisher, but during the 2000s became a champion, particularly in the US, for social and behavioral science, doing a lot of work supporting societies and lobbying government.

What current developments would you expect to have the most impact over the next 5-10 years

The issue on the table at the moment is the cognitive neuroscience issue. There are one or two big names there but also lots of young people. Because of the popularity of cognitive or social neuroscience, I think it will have an impact and these people will do well in their careers. I wonder whether it will fizzle out in 5-10 years time, as not being an exciting direction to take the field, but you go to conferences now and it’s these bright young sparks who are the flavor of the month. It’s a practical thing. Universities get the kudos of spending money on brain imaging machinery and cozying psychology up with medicine and neuroscience. The sexiness of this topic is going to disappear when they discover that they need to maintain it longer term and at great expense.

People will tire eventually of pictures of the brain lighting up, and wonder why such a fuss is made about it. The reality of explaining the complex issues of discrimination, language, and feelings is much more complicated, and the brain imaging work is too simple. So I suspect it may gradually peter out, and people will look for a slightly different paradigm – more social and less neuro.

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