Contributions to Society

  • Created by: Em
  • Created on: 31-03-16 16:14

Social Approach

Explaining blind obedience

Several studies from the social approach show how normal people will obey instructions which in hindsight they would not normally.

Perhaps the most famous study into obedience comes from Milgram (1963) whose study involved pp's asking questions to who they believed to be other pp's. Whenever they got a question wrong they gave them electric shocks. The pp's did not know the other pp's were actors and not really given shocks but the pp's followed the experimenters instructions and supposedly- knowingy administered lethal 450v. After his study and variations, Milgram developed his agency theory to help explain obedience.


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Explaining blind obedience

Studies such as Hofling et al (1966) and Meeus and Raaijmakers (1986) found the same results- pp's would willingly follow the instructions of an authority figure. Sometimes, obeying an authority figure may go against the individuals own moral code. 

In 'real life' this can be seen in events such as Abu Ghrahib prison where US soldiers were seen treating Iraqui prisoners in abusive and violent ways. The treatment involved verbal and physical abuse.

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Much of the research into obedience uses experimental methods, such as Milgram and Hofling so there are strong controls over extraneous variables and the methodologies are replicable.

Meeus and Raaijmakers found the same as Milgram; blind obedience occured in both cases, although this was in the Netherlands 20 years later. This suggests that this is a valid explanation across many cultures and stregthens research as similar findings are obtained.


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It might be argued that the Netherlands isn't too different a culture from the USA and so generalising the theory to other more different cultures may be difficult.

Milgram used agency theory to explain obedience whereas Zimbardo suggested situation causes rather than personality. There is no one definitive explanation.

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Reducing prejudice using social identity theory

Social psychologist Tajfel fronted SIT to explain that people form 'in-groups' and 'out-groups' (shown in his own study) to show how prejudice and discrimination occurs even without group history. 

One aspect of categorising oneself as part of an in-group is to publicly identify with the group, it's members and it's norms. In order to raise self-esteem, an individual will want to see their in-group favourably and will tend to look down on any out-groups. This theory helps to explain the formation of stereotypes and prejudice

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Reducing prejudice using social identity theory

Prejudice is seen as an explanation of a range of social behaviours: it leads to discrimination. It has been associated with things such as behaviours of football fans up to the extreme of genocide. This is something society wants to reduce from a moral, humane point and in an economic sense.

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Much research into prejudice comes from lab experiments which have strong controls and are replicable. Some field experiments are used such as Sherif which has high ecological validity.

Studies have shown how in-group/out-group prejudices can occur between artificially- created groups without any previous competition or history, supporting the ideas of these theories.

The theories which suggest explanations of prejudice only consider one aspect (the idea of being part of an in-group) which means it does not consider the whole complexity of prejudice and discrimination, but a holistic view which does not consider all aspects of predjudice would be needed for a valid explanation.

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Studies are therefore also likely to lack validity because they do not represent the 'real' situations which exemplify prejudices e.g Tajfels studies used artificial groups, which may lack validity.

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Cognitive Approach

Understanding the problems of EWT

EWT plays a large part in court judgements and sometimes the entire outcome of the trial can depend solely on an eyewitnesses testimony. This illustrates the importance of ensuring such a testimony is as reliable as possible. 

Studies such as Loftus and Palmer (1974) and Yarmey (2004) have shown that leading questions can affect the recall of eyewitnesses, suggesting unreliability and that they should not be relied on in courts. 

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Understanding the problems of EWT

However, a counterargument from Yuille and Cutshall (1986) suggests that eyewitnesses are reliable as they were not affected by leading questions. 

Findings from these sorts of studies have led to the development of techniques such as the cognitive interview, as well as helping police to effectively get reliable information from eyewitnesses e.g by not using leading questions.

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Most of the studies, such as Loftus and Palmer tend to have strong controls over ex variables and tend to show the effect of the IV on the DV, showing that factors such as leading questions can affect EWT.

Yuille and Cutshall actually found that eyewitnesses of a real crime were very reliable and were not affected by leading questions which opposed the findings of the experimental evidence, suggesting that those studies lacked validity.

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Ethically, it becomes difficult to study the memories of real eyewitnesses, as any further questioning can affect their memories making true experimentation difficult. Especially if the eyewitnesses find it distressing to revisit the event and cues should not be used to make them relive the event.

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Using our understanding of memory in education

Cognition refers to the mental processes needed to make sense of the world. Memory is an important cognitive function.

Revising and studying is essentially memorising content, therefore using cognitive approach theories and research we can maximise the effectiveness of revision.

Using Craik and Lockharts LOP theory we can understand information manipulation and how semantic (elaborative) processing is more effective than structural processing. Elaborative rehearsal can be done by using techniques such as exam style questions and flipped learning to encourage students to process information more effectively.

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Using our understanding of memory

The understanding of the MSM can help teachers avoid overloading the students. This was supported by Atkinson and Shiffrin. The STM can only hold 7+/-2 chunks of information so teachers should find ways to 'chunk' the information. To transfer information to LTM revision and repetition of material can be done as the LTM is unlimited. 

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This can be applied to devloping teaching technique such as flip learning and jigsaw learning, this encourages elaborative processing.

The LOP theory and MSM can be applied to real life e.g students should revise by not just reading but by making notes to esnure rehearsal is elaborative and not maintenance.

The models are seen as over-simplified and do not account for other influences in the classroom such as distinctive information which creates a mental image without the need of rehearsal.

Often these studies lack validity due to the difficulty in using longitudinal studies.

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Psychodynamic Approach

Psychoanalysis as a therapy

Using his ideas from the psychodynamic approach, Freud developed psychoanalysis as a therapy, which has been used since on a wide variety of patients for a number of disorders. This causes some controversy, and is a particular focus for the psychological debate of the power of the practitioner.

The contribution to society is that it can be used to help treat certain mental health disorders, creating a healthier individual who will contribute to a more economically-productive society.

Psychoanalysis has also led to or contributed towards the devlopment of other major therapies such as CBT.

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The therapy is in-depth and thorough, taking time to explore the whole individual, including background and conerns of the patient, and taking such a holistic view is likely to increase the chance of finding a cure.

As a therapy it can be said to be fairly successful, as in its time it has helped to treat a number of people with minor mental health disorders.

Studies such as Fonagy (1981) suggest that Freud's approach to understanding the individual is actually more scientific as looking at the patient with an objective and reductionist approach is not valid for treatment.

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Concepts such as dream analysis and symbol analysis are very subjective, and so Freud's methods are not scientifically measureable.

Masson suggested that the extent to which this is a contribution is questionable, as it could actually be more of a problem, due to the amount of power the psychoanalysts wield over their patients- which can have adverse consequences.

It is an expensive, time-consuming and not always effective therapy, so the extent to which it can be called a contibution is debatable.

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