Individual differences evaluation

key points

overview of approach

study evaluations

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  • Created on: 06-06-12 16:00
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Psychology often makes generalisations about people. Depending upon your point of
view this can be seen as a great strength of psychology or a weakness or probably
It is important that we recognise that there are as many differences between people
as there are similarities
An issue that is often included in the section of individual differences is what
psychologists refer to as abnormality. However the concept of abnormality is also a
highly controversial issue. The judgement that somebody is abnormal is relative and is
based on factors such as culture, class, religion, sexuality and so on.
The study by Rosenhan (1973) challenges the ability of professionals to classify
abnormality. The study by Thigpen and Cleckley (1954) also illustrates the
controversy of diagnosing multiple personality. And finally, Griffiths' (1994) study
looks at the cognitive differences between gamblers and non-gamblers.
There is a long history of attempting to classify what is abnormal behaviour. The most
commonly accepted approach to understanding and classifying abnormal behaviour is
known as the medical model. This branch of medicine, which is concerned with treating
mental illness, is known as psychiatry. In the 1960s a number of psychiatrists and
psychotherapists, known as the anti-psychiatry movement, started to fiercely criticise
the medical approach to abnormality. David Rosenhan, a psychiatrist, was also a critic
of the medical model and this study can be seen as an attempt to demonstrate that
psychiatric classification is unreliable
Rosenhan claims that the study demonstrates that psychiatrists cannot reliably tell the
difference between people who are sane and those who are insane.
The main experiment illustrated a failure to detect sanity (type II error false
positive), and the secondary study demonstrated a failure to detect insanity (type I
error false negative).
Rosenhan explains that psychiatric labels tend to stick in a way that medical labels do
not and that everything a patient does is interpreted in accordance with the diagnostic
label once it has been applied.
He suggested that instead of labelling a person as insane we should focus on the
individual's specific problems and behaviours.
Evaluation of the Procedure
The participant observation meant that the pseudo patients could experience the ward
from the patients' perspective while also maintaining some degree of objectivity.
The study was a type of field experiment and was thus fairly ecologically valid whilst
still managing to control many variables such as the pseudo patients' behaviour.
Rosenhan used a range of hospitals. This allows the results to be generalised.
The hospital staff were deceived - this is, of course, unethical. Although Rosenhan did
conceal the names of hospitals or staff and attempted to eliminate any clues which
might lead to their identification

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Rosenhan did note that the experiences of the pseudo-patients could have differed
from that of real patients who did not have the comfort of knowing that the diagnosis
was false.
Perhaps Rosenhan was being too hard on psychiatric hospitals, especially when it is
important for them to play safe in their diagnosis of abnormality because there is
always an outcry when a patient is let out of psychiatric care and gets into trouble.…read more

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Eve or whether we can generalise it to other cases.
The close relationship between researcher and participant may introduce bias. For
example, in this case study, the moment that Eve Black appears can be seen in a
different way to that described by the therapist. For example as Eve crossed her legs
`the therapist noted from the corner of his awareness something distinctly attractive
about them, and also this was the first time he had received such an impression'.…read more

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This study gives a great insight into gambling behaviour, however, it cannot be
generalized to other types of gambling such as horse racing, cards, dice, roulette,
internet gambling etc. Gambling is a serious social and personal problem; the insights
provided by this study have implications for the treatment of problem gambling.
Ethics were seriously considered in this study; all participants had given their consent,
were allowed to withdrawn at any time and were debriefed.…read more


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