Idiographic and Nomothetic Approaches


The Idiographic Approach

The idiographic approach involves focusing more on the individual case as a means of understanding behaviour, rather than aiming to formulate general laws of behaviour. 

Case studies and unstructured interviews with open questions are often used.

Humanistic psychologists support using this method to uncover all of the possible influences on one individual's behaviour (the unique experience). 

The psychodynamic approach also looks at the experience of individuals, although Freud also said that factors such as the unconscious are true for everyone.

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The Nomothetic Approach

The nomothetic approach involves formulating general laws of behaviour, rather than focusing on individual cases. 

Experiments, structured observations, and interviews involving large groups of people are used to establish theories which can be applied to everyone.

Reductionist approaches such as the biological and behavioural approaches favour this method, as do cognitive approaches.

The scientific method is favoured - a hypothesis is formulated, then tested on a group of people. The results are then used to modify theories applying to all.

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Evaluation of Idiographic and Nomothetic Approache

+ The idiographic approach allows for a comprehensive, in-depth look at one individual, allowing for full explanation of their behaviour. This may help to challenge and modify general laws of the idiographic approach.

- Methods used by the idiographic approach are less scientifically rigorous, so may be less valid. The approach may be less useful as no general theories or predictions are made.

+ The nomothetic approach uses scientific, controlled, and standardised methods of investigation, increasing the credibility of the findings, and general norms of behaviours can be identified (for example, the average IQ of the human population).

- The nomothetic approach is less human-focused, as people are treated as statistics / sets of scores, rather than individuals who have a range of influences on them. It perhaps does not reflect the complexity of the human experience.

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