Issues, Debates and Approaches

  • Created by: AnnieB
  • Created on: 26-05-15 17:20

Determinism vs Free Will

Is our behaviour controlled by one factor? (Hard determinism)

Or is it controlled by general laws, allowing free will to operate in some situations? (Soft determinism)

If our behaviour was entirely based on free will then no laws or predictions could be made about our behaviour.

If our behaviour is determined by factors outside our controlled then we cannot be held responsible for our actions and this would have very serious consequences for society

The biological approach argues that our behaviour is mainly determined by our genetic make-up

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Reductionism vs Holism

An approach that tries to explain a complex phenomenon such as human behaviour in terms of basic elements, i.e. it can explain behaviour and experiences in reference to one factor e.g. physiology.

Holism looks at individuals as a whole, and looks at all factors which together might explain a behaviour.

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Advantages and disadvantages of reductionism

Advantages of Reductionism:

  • Helps understand the world better

  • Has led to some great discoveries

  • Easier to study one component rather than several

Disadvantages of Reductionism:

  • Makes complex behaviour very simplistic

  • Component isolated doesn’t give full explanation of behaviour

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Nature vs Nurture


This suggests that behaviour is innate (nativism) and a result of genetics.  

They are universal (nomothetic) and pre-determined (deterministic). All development is pre-wired from birth (Gesell)

People’s behaviour/personality is relatively fixed (pre-determined by a genetic blueprint)


All behaviour is learnt from the environment. We are shaped by our environment

All behaviour is a result of learning therefore undesirable behaviour can be un-learned

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Gender bias

Taking male thinking/behaviour as normal, regarding female thinking/behaviour as deviant, inferior, abnormal, ‘other’ when it is different

Alpha bias

Exaggerating the differences between men and women

Beta bias

Exaggerating the similarity between men and women

Often happens when findings are obtained from men and applied to women without additional validation

Freud and psychosexual development

‘Biology is destiny’ – women’s roles are prescribed & predetermined

‘Penis envy’ – women are defined psychologically by the fact that they aren’t men

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Cultural bias

The psychological studies presented are predominantly white, Euro-American enterprise

  • 64% of psychological researchers from US
  • 90% of studies have US Participants

The samples predominantly white middle class. Yet it aims at explaining human behaviour

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Emics and Etics

Emics are the constructs particular to a specific culture; etics are constructs that are universal to all people.

Bias can occur when emics and etics get mistaken for each other.

Emic constructs are specific to particular cultures, so they vary from place to place and are likely to be ignored or misinterpreted as researchers from one culture may not be sensitive to local emics. Their own cultural ‘filters’ may prevent them from detecting them or appreciating their significance.

Etic constructs are assumed to be universal, but may not be, which can lead to ‘imposed etics’, where a construct from one culture is applied inappropriately to another.

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Ethnocentrism occurs when a researcher assumes that their own culturally specific practices or ideas are ‘natural’ or ‘right’.

When other cultures are observed to differ from the researcher’s own, they may be regarded in a negative light, e.g. ‘primitive’, ‘degenerate’, ‘unsophisticated’, ‘undeveloped’ etc.

Becomes racism when other cultures are denigrated or their traditions regarded as irrelevant etc.

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  • Protection of participants
  • Privacy
  • Consent
  • Withdrawal
  • Confidentiality
  • Debriefing
  • Deception
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Not everyone is capable of giving informed consent.

Special care needs to be taken when studying vulnerable people who may not understand the implications of taking part in a study.

For example when dealing with consent for children below the age of 16, parents or carers must be given enough information about the study to allow them to make an informed judgement on the child’s behalf.

When vulnerable people do not have relatives or carers to give informed consent on their behalf, researchers have to seek consent from an ethics committee.

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Non-human animal studies

  • Animals can be used in ways humans can’t
  • Short lifespans & breeding cycles enable inheritance to be studied
  • Behaviour can be controlled and monitored in ways impossible with people
  • Less reactivity
  • We share common ancestry with other animals (Darwin, 1859)
  • Basic similarities in physiological structure & functioning
  • Behavioural similarities with some species (e.g. primates)
  • Animal research gives valid information about human processes
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Ethical arguments

Utilitarian - The suffering of a small number of animals is justified because it helps a large number of people

Moral duty - We have a moral obligation to our own species to advance knowledge and reduce suffering.  Animal research is justified if it furthers this (Gray, 1991)

If animals are to be constrained, harmed or stressed in any way, investigators must consider whether the knowledge to be gained justifies the procedure. Alternatives to animal experiments should be considered wherever possible.

Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986

  • Limit the number of animals used to the minimum
  • Do not use endangered species
  • Caging conditions should take into account the social behaviour of the species.
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