The major theoretical advances in social psychology over the past few decades, according to Cartwright (1978), have all been primarily concerned with cognitive processes. They have significantly advanced our knowledge of how an individual perceives and makes sense of his environment, knowledge which is essential for the understanding of social behaviour. Despite these impressive achievements, Cartwright is left with certain misgivings, for the reason that ‘…our heavy concentration on intra-personal processes has led us to give insufficient attention to other equally important influences on behaviour that are exerted by such things as groups, organizations, institutions, social power, laws, bureaucratic regulations, technology, and the distribution of economic resources’ (p. 175). The result of this is that ‘Social psychology has in recent years, I regret to say, become increasingly less social, and…we do not have the kind of theory that can be used in the construction of programmes of social action that are intended to solve some of our most serious social problems’ (Ibid.).
The present economic gloom in many Western countries will certainly renew an interest in the relationship between social psychology and economics. Some time ago, Davis, Laughlin & Komorita (1976) predicted that economic problems would become a growing concern in social psychology. A special issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology in 1982 was devoted to economics. It is also interesting to note that the American Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues was a result of the response of psychologists to the great Depression (Finison 1979).