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Individual differences assumptions

1.       To understand human behaviour and experiences it is necessary to study the differences between people rather than those things that we all have in common.

2.       It largely focuses on things such as personality differences and abnormality (e.g. addiction and mental disorders)

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Individual differences strengths

Useful applications

  • Rosenhan study led to a revision of the way that people with mental health problems are diagnosed and treated
  •  Griffiths suggest that a type of cognitive behaviour therapy may be successful with addicted gamblers
  • Thigpen and Cleckley study suggested that more investigation into MPD was needed
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Individual differences weaknesses

Qualitative data

 Even though it can provide a rich and detailed account of behaviour, there are difficulties with its interpretation; objectivity and analysis which makes us question its validity.

Thigpen and Cleckley - Even after 14 months and over 100 hours of therapy they could not be sure that Eve wasn’t just a really good actress pretending to have MPD.

Rosenhan’s work relies on the qualitative reports by participants observers, and it may be that they lacked objectivity in reporting what was for them a negative personal experience entirely from the perspective of pseudopatients on a psychiatric ward.

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Individual differences strengths

Scientific methods

 Reliable and quantitative data which can be easily analysed and therefore similarities and differences between individuals can be discovered:

  • Psychometric tests were used in the study of MPD by Thigpen and Cleckley and also used in the BBC experiment by Reicher and Haslam
  •  However, not all tests are reliable and objective, for example in Thigpen and Cleckley, the projective tests used don’t have a lot of evidence to suggest they are reliable and they also rely on the subjective interpretation of the researcher.
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Individual differences strengths

Case Studies

Case studies are in depth and often longitudinal studies focus on one 

  • Thigpen and Cleckley studies Eve White, carrying out a longitudinal, in-depth case study of her to investigate whether or not she was a true case of MPD. 
  •   It recognises that individual differences are an important element of people’s behaviour which is often overlooked by other approaches:
  •  Griffiths shows that individual differences in the cognition of regular gamblers, such as irrational thinking, help us to explain why some people are regular gamblers and others aren’t.
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Individual differences weaknesses

Reductionist - focuses on dispositional factors

Eve’s difficulties could also be explained by the expectations of being a wife in the US in the 1950s 

Rosenhan - pseudopatients was misinterpreted as being a consequence of with supposed illness when it was in fact a result of the hospital environment.

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Social approach assumptions

Behaviour is influenced by the actual, implied or imagined presence of others.

One debate is whether an individual’s behaviour is as a result of their personality or their social context

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