How to evaluate theories/explanations

Usefulness

  • Description: This refers to whether a study creates practical applications.
  • Comment:  If a study is not useful this is a problem because psyhcology's main aim is to benefit society or the individual with its research. Therefore, if the usefulness is limited it is not meeting the goals of the subject.
  • Counter comment: However, if the study is useful then it an lead to practical applications, further research and adds to our academic understanding. The research might not have been useful but it still gave us insight into an issue.
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Free - will vs Determinism

  • Description: Deterministic argument suggests that our behaviour is determined by factors outside of our control e.g biological factors or situational factors. The opposite argument is free - will which states that individuals are free to choose how they behave. Most psych research is deterministic as it is trying to identify factors or variables that determine behaviour.
  • Comment: Deterministic explanations create problems because they suggest that behaviour is out of the individual's control. This can remove a persons responsibility for their actions and makes it harder for them to actively engage in changing their behaviour. A problem created by supporting free - will is that it may reduce sympathy towards individuals with anti - social or irrational behaviour and this reduce actions to help a person change behaviour.
  • Counter Comment: However a good point of being deterministic is that we can see direct causes of behaviour, we can help to prevent, remove, or reduce their impact. However, a strength of free - will arguments is that is encourages individuals to take responsibility for their behaviour and makes people accountable for their actions by removing 'excuses'.
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Individual vs Situational explanations

  • Description: An individual explanation for behaviour would be something about that person and a situational explanation would be something about the environment.
  • Comment: Individual explanations may cause problems because such factors are harder to generalise to all people and harder to alter. A problem with situational explanations is that it could remove responsibility for that person's behaviour.
  • Counter Comment: However, individual explanations may create more effective stratergies for changing behaviour as they target a specific individual and address the reasons for their behaviour. However, situational explanations do allow us to see how the environment effects us and so supports the idea that we can easily change behaviours by changing the environment.
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Nature vs Nurture

  • Description: The debate questions in the origins of behaviour. Nature refers to behaviour being due to biological factors such as genetic inheritance, chemicals and brain influences. Nurture refers to behaviour being due to environmental influences and learning experiences. This debate can be seen in research as psychologists try to understand the roots of our behaviour.
  • Comment: A problem with nature explanations is that they are reductionist but also trying to change or modify behaviour due to nature is difficult without medication or other invasive techniques. A problem with nurture explanations is that they are reductionist and so any treatments based solely on nurture may be ineffective if the problem is caused by nature.
  • Counter Comment: However, it is useful to try to establish which of the two has the greater influence as it can lead to some practical applications which may benefit individuals or society.
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Reductionism

  • Description: This is the way in which psychologists often explain complex psychological phenomena by reducing them to a much simpler level, often focusing on a single factor. AN explanation or study can be reductionist if it only explains behaviour as being due to one factor.
  • Comment: Being reductionist is a problem because it means that important factors may be overlooked and therefore the findings are not a full explanation for behaviour. Therefore the finidings have limited application when we try to change or modify behaviour.
  • Counter Comment: However, by taking a reductionist approach and isolating behaviour down to single contributing factors, we can start to see cause and effect which in turn may offer solutions to tackle inappropriate behaviour.
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Validity

  • Description: This questions whether a researcher has measured what they set out to measure. To check the validity of a study is to look at how behaviour was defined and measured and consider whether this was a good way to do it, or if there could have been other factor that could have affected the results other than what was being tested.
  • Comment: This is an important issues because if a measure or study lacks validity we cannot be sure that we have accurately investigated a particular behaviour and therefore findings cannot be applied in the real world. It is also less possible to state cause and effect.
  • Counter Comment: (For use with self reports) Whilst there may be question marks over validity, self reports are the only way that we can obtain thoughts, feelings and attitudes and so remains and important research tool for psychologists. High validity increases the usefulness or research as the findings can be said to be accurate as the study had high controls, therefore no extraneous variables have effected the results. Leads to practical applications.
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