Debates - G544

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  • Created by: SJ
  • Created on: 28-03-13 12:19

Reductionism vs Holism


  • Argues that all behaviours can be reduced down to their simpler constituent parts
  • Works on the scientifc assumption that complex phenomena should be explained by the simplest principles possible.
  • E.g. Explaining complex human behaviour in terms of inherited genes or classical/operant conditioning


  • Argues that behaviours cannot be explained in terms of the components that make them up.
  • Should be explained via their interaction with one another to provide a complete picture
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Strengths and Weaknesses - Reductionsim vs Holism


+ Breaking down the components makes things easier to test

+ Scientific Approach: If one component is isolated and others are controlled than the study is more objective and scientific.


- May lead to incomplete conclusions. Holism provides different levels of explanation providing a more realistic understanding of human behaviour.

- Methodological Reductionism: Laboratory experiment where IV is isolated can lack ecological validity.

- Behaviour is more meaningful when studied in a social context as a number of variables interact with one another.

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Determinism vs Free-Will


  • That all behaviour results from either internal or external factors
  • Suggests we have little control/free will over our behaviour but are controlled by factors i.e. biology, unconscious forces, learning by association and reinforcements.
  • Suggests that individuals cannot be held morally responsible for their actions
  • Possible to explain present behaviour and predict future behaviour. This is a valid scientific view because science rests on the idea of cause and effect and predictability.


  • Human behaviour can be chosen at our own free will.
  • We actively decide what we wish to do.
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Strengths and Weaknesses - Determinism vs Free-Wil


+ It has a scientific basis and is usually studied objectively.

+ Emphasis on cause and effect allows for deterministic explanations to be more understandable and predictable.

+ Predictabilty is useful as it could be worthwhile in trying to change things (e.g. education systems or child rearing practices). This could have positive effects.


- Often reductionist. Determinism can never fully explain behaviour as it is far too complex.

- Could be considered unethical as it can lead to labelling.

- The scientific nature could result in low ecological validity.

- Lab experiments are often used which could lead to demand characteristics 

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Nature vs Nurture


  • Refers to the part of us that is  innate  (inherited and genetically determined)


  • Refers to all the influences after birth. i.e learning and experience.
  • The idea that particular behaviours are acquired through experience
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Strengths and Weaknesses - Nature vs Nurture


+ It can help us identify behaviours that are inherited and learned. As well as their relative contribution.

+ Ethical consideration: It is valuable to discover that some beahviours are due to nature and not to the role of parents or environment. This may avoid blame.


- It is simplistic to divide explanations into either nature or nurture, as the two often combine in complex ways to influence behaviuor.

- Discovering that a particular behaviour (e.g IQ) is inherited, may lead us to assume other behaviours are also inherited and fail to consider the effects of the environment.

E.g If Governments take a Nature approach they may not bother improving the school experience to help students fulfill their genetic potential.

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  • Refers to the tendency of people to view the world from their own cultural group or social group.
  • Can lead to cultural bias  in that people may overestimate the importance/normality of those in their cultural group (In-Group) and  underestimating or negatively judging people from other cultural groups. (Out-Group). This may lead to values in one group being accepted, though values from another group are regarded as different
  • Due to this bias, psychologists might design research or draw conclusions in a way that makes sense or applies to their own cultural group or reflects a particular cultural background. 
  • One way to overcome ethnocentric bias (cultural bias) is to undertake cross-cultrual research - where we compare groups of people who have been brought up in different cultures.
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Strengths and Weaknesses - Cross-Cultural Research


+ Allows us to discover that not all cultures are the same, to discover the diversity of behaviour and the experience that people all over the world have.

+ Researchers need to be wary of assuming that their culture is superior or the norm. This is dangerous as their research and findings can be regarded as biased


- Behaviours change over time and some cultures may change more quickly than others. What is found at one point in time, may change rapidly. 

- Cross-cultural studies are only a sample of that culture and may not be generalisable

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Psychology as a science : Scientific Approach

Scientifc Approach:

  • It uses controlled methods to collect observable evidence, record measurable data and construct theories about how things work .
  • Hypotheses are tested under controlled conditions.
  • Scientists are expected to publish their research so other scientists can carry out similar experiments to test the reliability of their conclusions. 
  • Sientific method invloves:

1) Setting up an alternative hypothesis

2) Operationalising the IV and DV (so the study can be repeated to test the reliability)

3) Collecting quantitative data under controlled conditions.

4) Objectively analysing the data in the light of the hypothesis

5) Accepting or rejecting the alternative hypothesis

6) Establishing a general law

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Arguments that psychology is a science

Arguments For:

+ Research based subject with investigation at its core

+ Uses scientific methods (manipulations of IVs) using many controls.

+ Generates hypotheses and these are tested epiracally, so that the theories can be tested and refined.

+ Manipulating one variable and controlling extraneous variables means it is possible to establish cause and effect.

Arguments Against:

- People are sometimes aware that they are being observed/investigated and may interact with the researcher, and this therefore alters their behaviour.

- Research can therefore never be completely objective i.e  demand characteristics.

- Some aspects of psychology are not observable (e.g emotion).

- Psychologists can only infer what is happening (e.g. self reports) rather than gathering direct empirical data

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Application and Usefulness


  • Examines the contribution that psychology makes to human welfare
  • Questions how reserch can be applied to the wider area.



- How diagnosis can lead to treatments (e.g. dysfuntional behaviour)


- Undestanding the causes and therefore the possible prevention of criminal behaviour. (e.g turning to crime)

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Useful Research


+ It can be of benefit to society and improve the world in which we live.

+ If the research is useful it enhances the value of psychology as a subject


- A study should follow ethical guidelines such as consent and avoid deception, however a study may need to be unethical to be of any use. (e.g Milgram)

- Lab experiments may lack ecological validity and therefore not useful for a scoial context. However cause and effect relationships are established.

- Any study should use a representative sample and be generalisable. Useful research should apply worldwide and not be ethnocentric.

- A study should not be reductionist- It should be able to be applied to various contexts and not to just one isolated factor. 

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Individual vs Situational Explanations


  • Sees behaviour as being due to factors within the individual.


  • Sees people's behaviour as being a result of a set of circumstances or the situation a person is in. 
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Strengths and Weaknesses - Individual and Situatio


+ Can be useful for society if we can determine which behaviours are due to situational v individual factors.

+ Discovering what behaviours may involve a complex interaction between the two explanations, gives us a better understanding and opens the door for future study.


- It can be difficult to separate the effects of a situation from the disposition (individual) of a person

- If situations are investigated in the lab then they have low ecological validity and therefore may not be useful

-If investigated in a field/natural setting, the situation is difficult to control and cause and effect can't be established.

- It is unlikely any behaviour is due to just one cause.

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