Psychology - Disadvantages of the scientific method.

  • "Discuss the advantages of the scientific method in psychology"
  • "Discuss the disadvantages of the scientific method in psychology"
  • "Discuss ethical issues in the use of human participants in research in psychology"
  • "Discuss ways of dealing with ethical issues when using human participants in research in psychology"
  • "Discuss ethical issues in the use of non-human animals in research in psychology"
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Psychology-Disadvantages of the scientific method

  • Any method or piece of research which underlies knowledge in psychology is a 'scientific method', the degree to which it may be considered as 'scientific' varies.
  • As such the advantages of the approach are altered.
  • points:
  • Internal validity
  • External validity
  • Reductionist
  • Nomothetic
  • Ethics & Morals
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Internal Validity

  • Internal validity refers to the extent to which we can be said to measure or observe what we are attempting to (know that the IV is producing the observed change in the DV and therefore establish cause and effect).
  • Issues leading to a lacking:
  • Demand characteristics 
  • Practice/Order effects
  • Investigator bias/effects (leading questions etc.)
  • Participant variables
  • Any factor which may affect the DV which is not the IV.
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Demand Characteristics

  • Demand characteristics:
  • The issue of demand characteristics leading to a decrease in internal validity is generally due to participants' ability to decipher the aims of an experiment, thus either conforming to or rejecting (screw you effect) the 'desired' characteristics; skewing results in both cases.
  • Because of this, results cannot be said to accurately represent the IV and thus lack internal validity.
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Practice/Order Effects

  • Practice/Order effects:
  • The internal validity of an experiment may also be decreased by effects owing to the order in which participants complete tasks. This is a negative because often they may become bored or learn how to complete tasks more/less effectively, because of this we cannot say that the DV is directly affected by the IV and thus results may not be effectively employed elsewhere.
  • This is due largely to the experimental design ( e.g causing a particpant to repeat a condition etc.)
  • Matched pairs
  • Independent measures
  • Repeated measures (Doing something more than once increases the likelihood of performing differently due to knowledge of the experiment and not genuine differences between participants)
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Investigator Bias/Effects

  • Investigator bias/effects:
  • Internal validity can again be reduced depending on whether the investigator is present. This is because a participant may alter their behaviour due to the presence of the investigator. 
  • Because of this we are unable to state that the IV is directly causing the DV and hence internal validity is reduced. The results, in becoming less valid, may not be applied effectively e.g in practical applications.
  • e.g in:
  • Asch's study on conformity
  • Milgram's study on obedience
  • Langer and Rodin's study on the effect of perceived choice on health in the elderly 
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Participant Variables

  • Participant variables:
  • Often internal validity can be reduced if there is a great variance between participants. This is because in instances where the experimental design is independent measures, it may be said that because the participants vary so much, in completing the same task in different conditions, we may not be measuring the difference produced by altered conditions but rather that caused by the difference in participants. 
  • This means that again it may not be the effect of the IV that we are measuring in the DV.
  • So instead of measuring the difference proposed by the hypothesis we are actually seeing the effects caused by the different participants.
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External Validity

  • External validity refers to the extent to which we can be said to be able to generalise to other areas/situations beyond the study and this is usually due to how 'natural' we may say the task completed is.
  • Issues leading to a lacking:
  • Ecological validity
  • Time validity
  • Population validity
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Ecological Validity

  • Ecological validity:
  • If an experiment is said to lack ecological validity it may not be applied realistically beyond the study and thus is lacking external validity. 
  • An experiment will lack ecological validity because the experimental method means that it cannot actually represent naturally occurring behaviour.
  • One example of this is in lab methodology. This is because the lab is an artificial setting in which all extraneous variables have been removed and thus with an artificial task also, any behaviour observed cannot really reflect any other behaviour beyond that specified in the study. 
  • Hence lab & animal experiments chiefly do not have external validity and hence it is difficult to create the most effective/accurate practical applications.
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Time Validity

  • Time validity:
  • A lack of time validity and thus external validity occurs as society and societal norms change over time. Due to these changes an experiment can lack external validity in that eventually it will not be applicable beyond the original study. 
  • For example Asch's 1955 study of conformity, this study is likely to produce very different results now as opposed to post-war 1955 experiments.
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Population Validity

  • Population validity:
  • Population validity may be lacking when a certain experiment uses participants that are relatively specific.
  • Milgram's study for example used only male participants from one part of America, therefore the study and it's research lack external validity because, due to the specific participants, any findings cannot be effectively generalised and applied beyond the study as they are not really applicable to anyone beyond the type of participant used (in this case male Americans).
  • A case study such as Gottesman's Genain twins for example lacks external validity, as do all case studies. This is because those being studied are a single, unique entity and therefore results obtained from research into them cannot be generalised to other, different people beyond the piece of research. 
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Reductionist

  • To describe a piece of research as being reductionist is to say that it focuses on just one or only a few factors concerning a given behaviour. This is a negative because in reducing the number of factors studied it may be so that some very important causal links are missed and thus the real cause of a behaviour may be ignored.
  • Issues leading to a lacking:
  • Attempting to explain behaviour with just one causal factor.
  • The real negative in being reductionist is that if we do not fully understand all the causes of a behaviour, any practical applications developed cannot effectively combat all causes if they are not designed to. 
  • Nearly all of psychology, research, designs and methods are reductionist. This is because we are always looking for a 'cause' for behaviour. Only the humanistic approach is not.
  • The most effective practical applications therefore come from many considered factors, e.g CBT & chemotherapy for schizophrenia being by far the most effective treatment.
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Nomothetic

  • If a piece of research or methodology etc. is said to be nomothetic then it has been applied to an entire population and thus does not take into consideration individual differences.
  • Issues leading to a lacking:
  • Generalising research to everybody
  • Ignoring individual differences when applying research
  • Being nomothetic can be a huge negative because of the potential to, by ignoring those that may be different, actually devalue an individual or group who may not conform to the characteristics proposed to be common to everyone by the given research.
  • Thus research may ignore the subjectivity of human behaviour and therefore not be properly explaining human behaviour, hence missing aims and possible vital differences.
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Ethical Guidelines - Morals

  • Ethical guidelines are rules designed to govern psychological practice with a view towards protecting participants from any possible, avoidable harm.
  • Guidelines:
  • Privacy 
  • Confidentiality
  • Protection from harm
  • Right to withdraw
  • Informed consent
  • Deception
  • It is important to consider why these guidelines may be broken and hence, consequently, what disadvantage is posed for the scientific method.
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Privacy

  • The ethical guideline 'privacy' states that all information regarding participants should be kept completely secure and hence should not be shared with any other source without permission. 
  • This guideline may be broken if a researcher deems it useful to share information in order to generate a more informed basis for results. 
  • The consequence however, as in case studies, may be that the subject or participants of the study are immorally over-studied such that their lives are made increasingly more difficult and hence they may suffer psychological harm. 
  • Privacy is probably most often broken in observational studies such as Middlemist's or Humphreys' because participants may not know they are being observed and thus may be acting in such a way as they desire to be private. Following the knowledge of their involvement they may suffer psychological harm, especially if their observed actions are socially unacceptable or even illegal.
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Confidentiality

  • The ethical guideline 'confidentiality' may be broken in situations where keeping information strictly confidential could lead to harm for the person confiding. In these situations it is actually a legal requirement to report something of this nature to someone of higher authority, thus breaking confidentiality.
  • Often this guideline may be broken if the person confiding shares information which leads to a perception that they may be at risk or harm.
  • The consequence, and hence the disadvantage for the scientific method, is that in these cases the person may fail to see the motive for breaking the guideline and hence may loose trust and faith in the psychological profession.
  • The confider may also become subject to 'labelling' on the basis of that which is exposed and hence will probably suffer some psychological harm. 
  • The participant is likely to come to harm on account of the revelation hence their desire for confidentiality in the first place (to protect themselves). 
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Protection From Harm

  • The ethical guideline 'protection from harm' is designed to protect any person involved in psychological research at all times. It is a major disadvantage for the scientific method if this guideline is broken due to the severity of the consequences. This guideline states that a person should leave an experiment in exactly the same physical and psychological state in which they entered.
  • Often this guideline may be broken if it is not realised just how much potential harm may be caused in a study. For example Milgram's study on obedience or Zimbardo's prison experiment which both led to devastatingly harmful experiences for the participants. These consequences were not predicted.
  • The consequence, and hence the disadvantage for the scientific method, is that in these cases the person may incur very serious damage as a result of the psychologist's oversight. 
  • Hence again participants may loose faith in the psychological profession and may even require counselling on account of their experiences. 
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Right To Withdraw

  • The ethical guideline 'right to withdraw' refers to the requirement for each and every participant to be given, obviously and totally, the right to leave the experiment at any time and withdraw their results should they feel uncomfortable. This works in accordance with the necessity that a participant remains in the same state in which they entered until leaving.
  • Often this guideline may be broken if the participants do not feel that it has been made explicitly clear that they may leave. Hence fearing the loss of payment or the social ramifications of "ruining the experiemnt" etc. a participant may continue within the experiment despite their discomfort.
  • The consequence, and hence the disadvantage for the scientific method, is that in these cases the person may actually begin to suffer harm and hence may loose trust and faith in the psychological profession.
  • Due to the pressure imposed on the participant it may also be that results obtained do not reflect real characteristics and hence behavioural traits. 
  • Milgram's study on obedience again reflects this ethical concern, participants, on account of the verbal cues to stay, experienced genuine, serious harm.
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Informed Consent

  • The ethical guideline 'informed consent' refers to the necessity for each participant to provide permission for their involvement in the study. For this to be entirely ethical the participant must know fully every detail of their involvement in the research so that they may make an informed choice on what exactly they are consenting to. 
  • Often this guideline may be broken if providing information on every aspect of a study would certainly be detrimental to results. This is because if every participant knows fully the aims and procedures it often becomes very easy to succumb to demand characteristics, rebellions, conformity and social desirability.
  • The consequence, and hence the disadvantage for the scientific method, is that in these cases, because a participant does not know everything about the experiment, they are being deceived and this may lead to a reduced ability to protect themselves and hence they may be harmed. 
  • Participants may later be upset, loose faith and may not want their results to be used.
  • The breaking of this guideline most often occurs in lab experiments where extraneous variables are reduced or for example in Langer and Rodin's study where knowing the full aims would have made the experiment implausible.
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Deception

  • The ethical guideline 'deception' refers to the requirement for each participant to be told fully the aims and their involvement etc. in any given study. This is so because of the consequences that may arise when a participant discovers what they are involved in.
  • Often this guideline may be broken if providing information on every aspect of a piece of research would prove detrimental to results. Participants therefore often do not have their involvement disclosed until the study has finished. 
  • The consequence, and hence the disadvantage for the scientific method, is that in these cases because a participant does not know everything about the experiment they are being deceived and this may lead to a reduced ability to protect themselves and hence they may be harmed. 
    • Participants may later be upset, loose faith and may not want their results to be used.
    • The breaking of this guideline most often occurs in lab experiments where extraneous variables are reduced for example in Milgram's experiment where knowing the true aims would have made the experiment implausible.
    • On discovering their involvement some participants may disallow the use of their results!
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