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Serge Moscovici (born 1925) is a Romanian-born Jewish-French psychologist, one of Europe's most prominent social psychologists. He is most famous for his work on social representation theory. Serge Moscovici's son, Pierre Moscovici, is a well-known French politician.
He was born in Brăila. From an early age he suffered the effects of anti-semitic discrimination. In 1938 he was excluded from the high school in Bucharest because of anti-semitic laws, and, after the Iron Guard-instigated the Bucharest Pogrom in January 1941, he was interned in a forced labour camp, until being set free by the Red Army in 1944.
He became a member of the Communist Party of Romania. During the late stage of World War II he met Isidore Isou, the founder of lettrism, with whom he founded the artistic and litterary review Da towards the end of 1944. Da was quickly censored.
After the war, he became a welder in a large Bucharest factory. In 1947, disillusioned with the communist regime, he left Romania. Chosing clandestine immigration, he arrived in France a year later, passing through Hungary, Austria and Italy. In Paris, helped by a refugee fund, he studied psychology at the Sorbonne.
His 1961 thesis, directed by the psychoanalyst Daniel Lagache, explored the social representations of psychoanalysis in France. He also studied epistemology and history of sciences with philosopher Alexandre Koyré. In the 1960s, he was invited to the United States by the Princeton University's Institute for Advanced Studies. He also worked at Stanford University and Yale, before returning to Paris to teach.
He is currently the director of the Laboratoire Européen de Psychologie Sociale ("European Laboratory of Social Psychology") at the Maison des sciences de l’homme in Paris.
His research focus was on group psychology and he began his career by investigating the way knowledge is reformulated as groups take hold of it, distorting it from its original form. His theory of social representations is now widespread in understanding this process of cultural Chinese whispers. Influenced by Gabriel Tarde, he later criticised American research into majority influence (conformity) and instead investigated the effects of minority influence, where the opinions of a small group influence those of a larger one. He also researched the dynamics of group decisions and consensus-forming.
Moscovici claimed that majority influence in many ways was misleading – if the majority was indeed all-powerful, we would all end up thinking the same. Drawing attention to the works of Gabriel Tarde, he pointed to the fact that most major social movements have been started by individuals and small groups (e.g. Christianity, Buddhism, the Suffragette movement, Nazism, etc) and that without an outspoken minority, we would have no innovation or social change.
The study he is most famous for, Influences of a consistent minority on the responses of a majority in a colour perception task, is now seen as one of the defining investigations into the effects of minority influence:
- aim: To investigate the process of innovation by looking at how a consistent minority affect the opinions of a larger group, possibly creating doubt and leading them to question and alter their views
- Procedures: Thirty two groups of six participants were shown coloured blue slides of varying shades. Two of the participants were in fact confederates (stooges) of Moscovici’s and had been instructed to consistently describe the slides as green. The remaining participants were asked to say what colour they judged the slides to be.
- Findings: For 8.42% of the trials, participants agreed with the minority and said that the slides were green. Overall, 32% of the participants agreed at least once .
- Conclusions: The study suggested that minorities can indeed exert an effect over the opinion of a majority. Not to the same degree as majority influence, but the fact that almost a third of people agreed at least once is significant. However, this also leaves two thirds who never agreed. In a follow up experiment, Moscovici demonstrated that consistency was the key factor, by instructing the stooges to be inconsistent, the effect fell sharply.
Publications in French
- La psychanalyse, son image et son public,Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. 1961/1976
- Reconversion industrielle et changements sociaux. Un exemple: la chapellerie dans l’Aude, Armand Colin, 1961
- L’expérience du mouvement. Jean-Baptiste Baliani, disciple et critique de Galilée, Hermann, 1967
- Essai sur l’histoire humaine de la nature, Flammarion, 1968/1977
- La société contre nature, Union Générale d’éditions, 1972 / Seuil, 1994
- Hommes domestiques et hommes sauvages, Union Générale d’éditions, 1974
Social influence and social change, Academic Press, 1976.
- Psychologie des minorités actives, P.U.F., 1979
- L’Age des foules: un traité historique de psychologie des masses, Fayard, 1981 (about Gustave Le Bon's invention of crowd psychology and Gabriel Tarde)
- La Machine à faire les dieux, Fayard, 1988
- Chronique des années égarées: récit autobiographique, Stock, 1997
Social Representations: Explorations in Social Psychology, Polity Press, 2000
- De la Nature. Pour penser l’écologie, Métailié, 2002
- Réenchanter la nature. Entretiens avec Pascal Dibie, Aube, 2002.
Moscovici, S., Lage, E. and Naffrenchoux, M. (1969) 'Influences of a consistent minority on the responses of a majority in a colour perception task', Sociometry, Vol.32, pp.365-80. cited in Cardwell, M. and Flanagan, C. (2003) 'Psychology AS The Complete Companion', Nelson Thornes
Publications in English
- Moscovici, S. (1976) Social Influence and Social Change,London: Academic Press
- Moscovici, S. (1980) Towards a theory of conversion behaviour. In: L. Berkowitz (ed.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 13, New York: Academic Press.
- Moscovici, S. (1981) On social representations. In: J.P. Forgas (ed.) Social Cognition: Perspectives in Everyday Understanding, London: Academic Press.
- Moscovici, S. (1984) The phenomenon of social representations. In: R.M. Farr and S. *Moscovici (eds) Social Representations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Moscovici, S. and Faucheux, C. (1972) Social influence, conformity bias and the study of active minorities. In: L. Berkowitz (ed.) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 6, New York: Academic Press.
- Moscovici, S, and Hewstone, M. (1983) Social representations: from the `naive' to the `amateur' scientist. In: M. Hewstone (ed.) Attribution Theory: Social and Functional Extensions, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Moscovici, S. and Zavalloni, M. (1969) The group as a polariser of attitude, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 12: 125-35.
- His entire bibliography may be found in Penser la vie, le social, la nature. Mélanges en l'honneur de Serge Moscovici, directed by Fabrice Buschini and Nikos Kalampalikis, Paris, Editions de la Maison des sciences de l'homme, 2001.
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