PSYB4 Debates

Nature vs Nurture

Free will vs Determinism

Holism vs Reductionism

Idiographic vs Nomothetic

Is psychology a science

  • Created by: Nikki
  • Created on: 11-05-11 13:09

Nature vs Nurture


Definition: That which is inherited. These genes create behavioral characteristics

Those who adopt an extream heredity position are known as nativists. Their basic assuption is that the characteristics of the human species as a whole are the product of evolution and that individual differences are due to each person's genetic code

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Nature vs Nurture


Definition: All environmental influences after conception

The environmentalists or empiricists believe that at birth the human mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) and this is gradually filled as a result of experience. Psychological characteristics and behavioural differences are the result of learning

Two ways the environment affects behaviour:

  • Biological environment - affects our physical development
  • Psychological environment - include a persons experiences
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Nature vs Nurture

The Interactionist View

Both nature and nurture affect child develovement, the question is to what extent each of them has an effect

Plomin identified 3 types of interation that can help understand how a child is affected by their environment:

  • Passive Heredity - A child's parents shape the environment in which a child grows up. This environment is related to the parents genetic make-up and so the parents genes are transmitted passively to the child via the environment the parents create
  • Reactive Heredity - The child's inherited characteristics create a reaction in others that leads to differences in the childs environment. The childs genetic make up affects the childs environment
  • Active Heredity - As each child interacts with their environment the environment is altered and this in turn affects the behavior of the individual 
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Nature vs Nurture


Twin Studies - In order to conduct research comparing the effects of nature and nurture in indentical twins, studies look at the differneces between twins who are reared together or apart

Shared Environments - Two individulas are raised in the same household/ same enviroment

Non-Shared Environments - The environmental influences that are unique to a given individual, these different influences can explain why twins who live in the same household may act differently

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Nature vs Nurture

Where do the approaches stand?

Biological - Nature, focuses on genetic hormonal and neurochemical explations of behavior

Behaviourist - Nurture, all behaviour is learnt from the environment and conditioning

Cognitive - Interactionist, behavior is an interaction between innate processing abilities and development of these by our experiance of the social world

Psychodynamic - Interactionist, behaviour is driven by biological instincts (ID), our behaviour is then shaped due to our experience with others during our early childhood

Humanist - Our behaviour is motivated by a innate hierachy of needs, however most behavior can be explained by our personal and individual life experiences

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Nature vs Nurture


Most research is based on monozygotic twins for concordance between behaviour and nature or nurture. However MZ twins are not exactly identical because they create their own micro-environments when born

The distinction made between genotype and phenotype shows that we can never actually acess the genotype and therefore are always assessing nature and nurture jointly

The concept of nature presumes that we can isolate an individual who had no interaction with the environment. People often talk of abilities being present at birth but at this time the human infant has already had 9 months worth of environmental experience

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Nature vs Nurture

Evaluation continued

There are problems with extreame views, due to the nature view of behavior, some nativits could suggest that certain individuals should not be allowed to reproduce for the benefit of a race

If not fully understood the human genome project could cause extreame views rather than considering alternative aspects such as the environment

If the nurture aspect is taken to an extreame then behavior of a person is solely due to the individulals environment. These extreame views tend to ignore free will

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Free Will vs Determinism


Definition: human behaviour and thought is caused by external or internal factors and beyond the person's control

Types of determinism:

  • Environmental Determinism - the behaviourist approach proposes that all behaviour is learned and can be explained soley in terms of external factors
  • Reciprocal Determinism - the environement influences the individual who then influences the environement (social learning theory)
  • Psychic Determinism - adult behaviour or personality is predetermined by events in early childhood
  • Biological Determinism - biological psychologists see certain predictability regarding thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This is because it thinks our biology determines what we are and what we will become
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Free Will vs Determinism

Free Will

Definition: A person is free to grow, change and develop how they want to. The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances

According to the humanistic approach, people have free will, and they deny that people's behaviour is at the mercy of outside forces alone. Humanist psychologists argue that regarding human behaviour as being influenced by external forces is dehumanising

A problem for free will is causality. Free will would suggest that nothing causes an action. But anyone displaying only random behaviour would be classified as mentally ill or very stupid. Free will needs to explain what causes actions to take place otherwise behaviours are seen as being determined

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Free Will vs Determinism

Free Will and Soft Determinism

The free will / determinism debate should not be seen as an all or nothing debate, instead we should see these as two ends of a continuum

The cause of any behaviour should be seen as occuring at some point along the continuum. This approach is known as soft determinism

Soft determinism claims that it is not the type of cause that is crucial rather than the issue of whether there is a cause or not

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Free Will vs Determinism

Where do the approaches stand?

Humanist - Free will, people are capable and free to choose their own lives and this is what makes each person's behaviour unpredictable

Behaviourist - Determinism, all behaviour can be determined on conditioning and learning from our environment

Psychodynamic - Determinism, our behaviour is cause by unconcious forces that we have little control over

Biological - Determinism, our physical state determines the causes of our behaviour and decisions we make

Cognitive - Soft determinism, Accepts people are capable of choosing their own thoughts and memories but that their are also inborn limitations to how these processing systems work

Social Learning Theory - Reciprocal determinism, the environment determines our behaviour and our behaviour creates our environment 

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Free Will vs Determinism


Our personal experience seems to suggest that we have free will, when we make decisions about how to behave we seem to be making free choices between alternatives

Free will cannot be investigated scientifically, whereas determinism is a scientific hypothesis

Scientific theories should be falsifiable but determinism is unfalsifiable because determinists always assume that a cause exists even if it has not been identified

Objective neuro-scientific research suggests that we do not choose to act consciously

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Free Will vs Determinism

Evaluation continued

Moral responsibility - when a person commits an anti-social act, the cause of their behaviour may be due to biological or social causes. Therefore we cannot hold individuals legally responsiblefor their actions if the causes were outside their control

Assumptions of science - science is based on the assumotion that one thing causes another. Scientific research can be used to predict behaviour and manipulate it. Free will denies such relationships, so we cannot use data from any scientific experiments to support our case

A problem for free will is causality. Free will would suggest that nothing causes an action. Free will needs to explain what causes actions to take place otherwise behaviours are seen as being determined

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Reductionism vs Holism


Definition: to explain complex phenomenon (like human behaviour) one needs to reduce it to its constitunt parts

Types of reductionism:

  • Physiogical redutionism - all behavior can be explained by our physical functioning
  • Biological reductionism - all human behaviour is a result of inherited genes and as a reaction to survival in an ever-changing environment
  • Experimental reductionism - human behavior should be broken down into different behaviours so that a particular behavior can be studied under laboratory conditions and a cause and effect can be isolated
  • Machine reductionism - humans are like computers and our mental processes can be reduced to models that reflect how we encode store and retrive data
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Reductionism vs Holism


Definition: human behaviour has its own properties that are not explicable in terms of the properties of the elements from which it is derived

Holism argues that some behaviours are best explained by studying how several factors interact together and that some behaviour cannot be explained from a single physiological perspective

Examples of holism:

  • Humanistic psychology - investigates all aspects of the individual as well as the interaction between people
  • Psychoanalysis - Freud considered that behaviour was the result of interaction between the id, ego and superego
  • Social psychology - looks at behaviour of individuals in a social context (group behaviour)
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Reductionism vs Holism

Where do the approaches stand?

Humanistic - Holism, reducing behaviour down to a set of simple elements is dehumanising

Biological - Reductionism, all behaviour can be reduced to biological explanations, such as the  genes we inherit and abnormalities in chemical/hormone levels

Behaviourism - Redutionism, reduce the concept of the mind to behavioural components i.e stimulus - responce links

Cognitive - Reductionism, uses analogy of machine systems and the simple componants of machines to describe and explain behaviour

Psychodynamic - Interactionist, relies on a basic set of structures that attempt to simplify a complex picture, it also uses idiographic techniques that aim to preserve the richness of human experience

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Reductionism vs Holism


The holistic approach brings together different levels of explanation and so provides a more realistic and complete understanding of behaviour

With a holistic approach it is difficult to see what is the basis of behaviour. This is a problem when it comes to treatments as you may not be able to ascertain which is having more of an effect on behaviour

With reductionism you can focus in detail on a particular aspect of behaviour and gain great insight into that specific aspect

If we only look at one factor at a time we can miss the complexity of influences on any one behaviour

Vast research supports the redutionist approach

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Nomothetic vs Idiographic


Psychologists who adopt this approach are mainly concerned with studying what we share with others

The nomothetic view is more quantitative and believes it is best to study large groups of individuals so that group norms and general laws of behavior can be identified and applied to everyone

It doesn't allow for individual differences and so dehumanises human beings, it also has low ecological validity

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Nomothetic vs Idiographic


Psychologists interested in this aspect of experience want to discover what makes each of us unique

The idiographic view is more qualitative and thinks it is best to study the individual with in-depth detail to achieve a more useful understanding of them

The idea behind the idiographic approach is that each person is special/unique and should be studied as a whole. Therefore, the case study method is one of the better ways to do this.

The idiographic approach is less scientific than the nomothetic approach

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Nomothetic vs Idiographic


A combination of both idiographic and nomothetic views

Psychologists will use both views to best predict and understand human behaviour. General laws about what people have in common can be used whilst at the same time a personal insight into an individual may help give a more complete picture

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Nomothetic vs Idiographic

Where do the approaches stand?

Humanistic - Idiographic, each person is unlike anyone else

Behaviourist - Nomothetic, all behaviour is a reaction to a stimulus in the environment and past learning

Biological - Nomothetic, studies the influence  of genetics and physiological differences to come up with general laws of why certain groups of people/individuals have certain behaviours

Cognitive - Idiothetic, cognitive psychologists provide models of how our mental processes work but they also use case studies and experiments

Psychodynamic - Idiothetic, Freud used case studies to understand human behaviour but he used these to create general laws of behaviour

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Nomothetic vs Idiographic


Idiographic view has rich and detailed information

The idiographic view is benificial when it is not possible to do an experiment

The idiographic view is anti-scientific and subjective

The idiographic view also has a limited range and although detailed it is difficult to gain lots of information when you study people as an individual

The nomothetic view is highly scientific so can gain lots of quantifiable data, it also benifits from the advantages of experiments

The nomothetic view tends to ignore individual differences and can focus to heavily on similar generalisable behaviour

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Is Psychology a Science?

What is science?

The features of a science:

  • There must be a definable and agreed upon subject matter or paradigm
  • There must be a theory construction from which hypothesis are derived and tested
  • Empirical methods of investigation are used to gather information
  • Science should attempt to discover general laws or principles

Paradigm - a collective set of theoretical assumptions and methods of enquiry about a subject

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Is Psychology a Science?

Hypothetico-deductive model

Theories/laws about the world should come first and these should be used to generate expectations/ hypotheses which can be falsified

A hypothesis is a proposed, and consequences are deduced, which are then tested against experience. If the hypothesis is falsified then we learn from the attempt and are in a position to produce a better one. If not we can try other tests.

Ways of creating a theory

Deductive reasoning - involves reasoning from the general to the particular. Starting with a theory and looking for instances that confimed this

Inductive reasoning - involves reasoning from the particular to the general

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Is Psychology a Science?

Replication, Objectivity and Peer Review

Replication - in order for replication to be possible, all details of the original study must be published, including the procedure, data and results. In order for research to be judged as reliable it has to have consistent results when it is replicated

Objectivity - any judgements, theories, findings, explanations must be based on observable phenomena, they must not be influenced by emotions or personal prejudices

Peer View - The assesment of research by others who are experts in the same field, usually done before reseach is published

Reasons for peer view:

  • Prevents incorrect or faulty data from entering public domain
  • It helps validate the quality of research and relevence of ideas
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Is Psychology a Science?

Where do the approaches stand?

Behaviourist - Science, believe in the scientific principles of determinism and orderliness

Cognitive - Science, adopts a scientific approach to unobservable mental processes by advancing precise models and conducting experiments on behaviour to confirm or refute them

Biological - Science, believe in the scientific principles of determinism and orderliness

Psychodynamic - Non-science, only explains behavior after the event, does not predict what will happen in advance and is unfalsifiable

Humanistic - Non-science, values private, subjective conscious experience and argues for the rejection of science

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Is Psychology a Science?


By applying the scientific approach to behaviour psychology earns credibility by having scientific status

The scientific approach aimsfor objectivity, this helps to provide accurate, reliable and generalisable results strengthening its theories

Theories developed by testable hypotheses allow psychology to provide universal laws of behavior that allow it to progress as a science

Because the subject matter is human behaviour, this may cause demand characteristcs which means we cannont be sure if the independet variable caused the behaviour

Ethical restrictions may constrain psychological research

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Is Psychology a Science?

Evaluation continued

Objectivity and control can cause an artificial environment and lack of generalisability

Cannot control all variable so completely accurate predictions are impossible

Deterministic and reductionist

Much is unobservable and cannont be measured

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Jamie Cockcroft


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Former Member


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Matt Hunt


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