Reductionism vs Holism

Reductionism vs Holism


  • Case for reductionism- A reductionist approach usually forms the basis of scientific research. In order to create operationalised variables it is necessary to break target behaviours down into constituent parts. This makes it possible to conduct experiments or record observations. This gives psychology greater credibility, placing it on equal terms with natural sciences down in reductionist hierarchy.
  • Case for holism- Aspects of social behaviour that only emerge within a group context and cannot be understood at the level of individual group members. This shows that holistic/same level explanations provide a more complete and global understanding of behaviour than reductionist approaches.


  • Case against reductionism - Reductionist approaches have been accused of oversimplifying complex phenomena leading to loss of validity. Explanations that operate at the level of the gene, neurotransmitter or neuron do not include an analysis of the social context within which behaviour occurs- where the behaviour in question may derive it's meaning. This means that reductionist explanations can only ever form part of an explanation.
  • Case against holism- Holistic explanations tend not to lend themselves to rigorous scientific testing and can vague as they become more complex. Higher level explanations that combine many different perspectives present researchers with a practical dilemma: if we accept there are many factors that contribute it becomes more difficult to establish which is most influential. This suggests lower levels explanations may be more appropriate.



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