Psychology- The social approach

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  • Created by: Gemma
  • Created on: 19-05-13 13:14

Research Methods

Structured Interview

  • A set of questions asked to every participant, researcher doesn't deviate away from them
  • Advantage- collecst all the info the researcher wanted, replicable, can be planned better
  • Disadvantages- Can seem insensitve to the participants response, can miss important info

Unstructured interview

  • Researcher has an idea of what to find out but no set questions, each question guided by the response given by the participant.
  • Advantage- Could find unexpected + interesting info, lets the participant guide the interview therefore it is valid.
  • Disadvantage- May produce unwanted and irrelevant data whichmakes it more difficult to analyse + may lessen validity, very difficult to repeat so lowers repliability

Semi-structured interview

  • Researcher has an idea of what questions to ask but may change or add to them after response.
  • Advantage-  Should gain info that the researcher is looking for sp high in validity
  • Disadvantage- lowers reliability as it's difficult to repeat easily
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Can produce both Quantitative and Qualitative data

Closed questions

Designed to produce set responses- ticking boxes or agreeing with statements on a scale.

  • Advantage- Produces quantitative data- esier to code and analyse statistically, can be answered resonably quickly and can collect large amounts of data, it's replication- reliability
  • Disadvantage- May not allow for true answer- lowers validity. Can produce social desirability bias, response set or acquiesence- lowers validity

Open questions

Designed to allow the participant to give their own answers in their own words

  • Advantage- produces qualitative data- rich in detail so higher validity
  • Disadvantage- difficult to code so cannot be analysed statistically and qualitative analysis takes longer and iso pen to subjective bias for the researcher. Its unlikly to produce the same results when repeated so lowers reliability.
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Deception- Participants should not be decieved unless necessary for the hypothesis. Any consent should be fully informed.

Consent-  Participants should agree to take part in the study and know what they are agreeing to.

Right to withdraw- Participants should be aware of their right to stop the study at any time or withdraw their data with no negative consequences for them.

Debriefing-  Participants should be told of the true aim of the study, what will happen to their information and offered any psychological issues that may have arisen from taking part.

Competence- The person carrying out the research should have the experience and qualifications to carry out the study and be aware of possible problems or ethical issues that might arise.

Protection of participants-  The participant should leave the study in the same psychological state as when they entered; noharm should come to the participant during or after the study including physical and psychological harm.

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Random- Most representative as every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected. Names put into a hat or a computer generates a list of random numbers.

  • Advantage- Truly representative
  • Disadvantage- Difficult to access all of the people in the target population and some may not want to take part

Systematic- All of the targe population are put into a list and the researcher chooses every nth person.

  • Advantage- More representative of the target population
  • Disadvantage-  difficult to access all of population and some may not want to take part

Stratified/ Quota- Participants are recruited using another method (usually oppertunity) until the desired quota of each group is reached.

  • Advatages-Will be more representative of groups in the target population
  • Disadvantages- May be difficult to fully match the quota makingthe method time consuming.


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Sample.. Continued...

Volunteer/ Self-Selected- an advert is put out and the participants reply and volunteer themselved to taking part.

  • Advantage-  Can be easier to recruit participants that the other methods as you simply wait for participants to reply- can save money and time.
  • Disadvantage- Only certain types of people will volunteer (confident people, people who can read etc) making it less representative or the target population.

Opportunity- The researcher asks whoever is available at the time and willing to take part, this can be approaching people in the street or asking family and friends.

  • Advantage- Can be easier and more convenient than other methods
  • Disadvantage-  Not a good representative of the target population as the reseacher can only ask those who are available and will probably not ask certain people (Aggressive, unwashed etc)
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Milgram- 1963

Aim- To establish a baseline measurement of how obedient naive participants would be when ordered to administer increasingly intense electric shocks to an innocent victim.

Method- 40 Male volunteers selected by advertising in a newspaper for participants in a study on human memory.Carried out at Yale university in USA. Rigged draw between the confederate and participant. Confederate was always the learner, participants was always the teacher. They were shown the equipment- a shock generator with switches from 15v-450v and a chair with straps on.

They went into seperate rooms. The teacher read the word list and tested the learner. The researcher told the participants to give a shock to the learner and increase the shock for every wrong answer. The learners responses were scripted and no real shocks were given. At various points he complained of pain, said his heart was starting to bother him and refused to continue before going silent at 315v. The researcher consistently encouraged the teacher to continue using prods, despite his protestations. Obedience was measured by how far up the generator the teacher went before refusing to obey.

Results- Every participant went to 300v and 65% went to 450v. 

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Variations of Milgrams original baseline study

In the baseline study the Teacher could hear but not see the participants as they were in seperate rooms.

  • When the learner could not be heard of seen throughout the experiment all participants went to the end.
  • When the learner was in the same room as the teacher so could be both seen and heard,only 40% of participants shocked to the end.
  • When the teacher has to physically hold the learner's hand onto the electrode to recieve a shock it dropped further to 30%.
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Evaluation of Milgrams original study

Experimental validity- Milgram set up an initial meeting of the participant and Mr Wallace (confederate) He had a believable rigged draw. He staged a sample 45v shock, used convincing equipment and organised cries of pain and wall pounding. This made the situation entirely beliebable. In a post-experimental interview he asked the participants how painful they thought the shocks were and most said extremely painful. The participants suffered obvious stree and tension which suggests that they did believe what was happening was real.

Ecological validity-  In the real world, people recognise authority and comply with its demands and there are usually serious repercussions for disobedience. Milgram tested whether the lab setting has a major impact on the results by using a variation set in an inner-city office. He found obedience dropped but was still a very high 48%. Hofling's (1996) study provides support as it was conducted in a hospital setting and nurses were unaware that they were being tested. Holfing found higher rates of obedience in the real world- 95% of the nurses broke the rules and gave an 'overdose' of a drug to a partient on the orders of a doctor.]

Reliability- There was a standardised procedure so every participants got the same experience. As it was carried out in a tightly controlled environment it is possible to replicate as it has been done in other cultures and in his own variations.

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Evaluation of Milgrams original study/.. Continued

Population validity- The sample consisted of 40 males or varied backgrounds so he has population validity for only American males. Milgram also tested females and found the same levels of obedience. However the results cannot be generalised to people from other culture who might behave differently. Studies done across the world have gathered similar results (Meuss and Raajmakers).


  • They did not know the true aim of the study
  • They were continually deceived
  • They were put under extreme stress
  • They were prompted to continue even when they wanted to stop
  • However, he did ensure there was a thorough debriefing
  • If Milgram had given the true aim and not deceived participants, his study would have been pointless.
  • In the follow-up questionnaire participants said they were glad they took part and 74% claimed to have learned something of personal importance. 
  • No participants when examined later showed any signs of having been harmed psychologically. 
  • All participants had the right to withdraw
  • Milgram believed his work would have wider benefits to society
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Cross-cultural research into Obedience

Netherlands 1980s using a more realistic setting of psychological harm rather than physical harm.

Aim- To test obedience where harm would be done but in a more up to date way.

Method- Based on Milgram's paradigm of having the reseacher order a participant to do something that would be harmful to another person. Participants were ordered to harass an apparent job applicant (confederate) to make him nervous which sitting a test to determine whether he would get the job. They were told it was in the context of a reseach project.

Results- 92% or participants obeyed and disturbed and criticised the applicant when told to do so by the researcher, even though they thought it was unfair and did not want to.

Variations of the baseline include removing the presence of the researcher and introducing two rebellious peers for the participant. Obedience dropped substantially in both cases.

Conclusions- Even in a more liberal culture than that of Migram's study, people obeyed an authority figure and went against their better nature to do something designed to harm another person.

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Evaluation and comparison with Milgram

Validity- This kind of pyshcological violence was more in tune with the times that the physical violence Milgram ordered. However it was still an unlikely scenario so lacked experimental validity. The sample was comprised of Dutch adults from the general population so is representative, and the results are consistent of in Europe so the study has population validity.

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Agency Theory

Milgram's research led to the developtment of the Agency Theory as a way of explaining obedience.

Milgram proposed that human behavious evolved to include the tendancy to obey because rule-based behavious enabled stability in a complex human society.

We switch between the autonomous state and the agentic state. The autonomous state is where we use our free will and take responsibility for our actions. An agentic state is where we act on behalf of someone else. Milgram believed that when we respond to legitimate authority we tend to operate in the agentic state.

Evaluation- the theory helps explain moral strain, where we do something that goes against our principles but seems to be for the greater good.

The agency theory has a lot of empirical support- Milgram's own research, Hofling's research and cross-cultural research.

However not everyone obey so there are individual differences. One thids of Milgram's participants refused to go all the way to the end so there must be more happening than a simple switch to agency.

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Agency Theory.. Continued...

The agency theory does successfully explain some phenomena.

Eichmann's testimony in WW2

  • He was following orders
  • He was part of the ruling organisation
  • He did not choose to do what he did
  • If he did not do it, someone else would

It can explain abhorrent acts by ordinary people under certain conditions, but could also be offered as an excuse for bad behavious.

Knowledge of the agency theory could help to inoculate against being destructively obedient, and safeguards could be built in to basic training of those more at risk (police, armed forces etc) to avoid blind obedience in every situation.

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Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejucide- an attitude towards another person based on little or no actual knowledge of them.

Discrimination-  the behaviour towards another person based on prejudice.

Tajfel's Social Identity Theory

The simple act of being grouped will inevitably lead to prejudice against another group.

  • Social catogorisation- automatic act of putting self and others into groups triggering stereotypical beliefs you may have about groups.
  • Social identification- personally accepting you are part of a group by adopting their behaviour, attitude and style to fit in. The group becomes an important part of how you view yourself.
  • Social comparison-  In order to boost your self-esteem you need your group to appear better that a chosen out-group so by making them look bad in comparison to your in-group. In-group favouritsm and out-group denigration
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Evaluation of Social Identity Theory

The theory successfully explains real-world behaviour (football fan behaviour). Fighting between rival fan groups could be that they are merely seeking to improve their social identity by proving themselves to be better than another group of fans.

The theory has supporting evidence- Sherif's study (1961) Robber's Cave shows that boys in a summer camp, when put into groups, became hostile to the out-group as soon as they were infromed of their existence and before any competition was introduced.

The theory has useful applications- we could tackle prejudice between groups by changing the group boundaries and creating one big in-group.

Downside- The theory simplifies complex human relations. Groups of people have shared histories involving conflict, it may be that history influences how we feel about each other and that grouping is just one aspect of it.

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Key Study- Holfing

Hofling et al. (1966)

Aim- what happens when a nurse is ordered to carry out a procedure which goes against her professional standards.

Procedure- Field study in 3 hospital in USA, one acting as a control.12 graduate nurses and 21 student nurses were asked to fill out a questionnaire about what they would do if confronted by the experimental situation. 22 nurses from the other 2 hospitals were targeted and while alone in the ward they recieved a phone call from an unknown doctor.

  • The nurse is asked to give an overdose of a drug to a patient
  • The medication order is given over the phone by a doctor (hospital policies say not over phone)
  • The drug is unauthorised for use on the ward when she is working.
  • The order is given by an unfamiliar voice.

Dosage instructions were clearly marked on the bottles. A written script was used by the doctor to standardise the conversation so all nurses heard the same thing and all conversations were recorded. A researcher was on hand to debrif the nurse within half an hour.

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Hofling et al.

Results-  10/12 graduate nurses and all 21 students said they would not have given the medication.

21/22 nurses started to give the medication. The calls were generally brief without any resistance from the nurses. During the debriefing only 11 nurses were aware of the dosage limits for Astroten, none became hostile to the caller and nearly all admitted that they knew they shouldn't have follwed the orders as it is agaist hospital policy.

Conclusion- Nurses will knowingly break hospital rules in a situation where a doctor tells them to, even if it could enganger a patient's life.

Evaluation- High ecological validity and experimental validity. Unethical as informed consent was not gained, and in the debriefing interviews the nurses commonly admitted to feeling shame, guilt and embarrassment. They had their professionalism undermined and were undoubtedly affected by what happened. However they received a thorough debriefing. They were reassured that they had acted normally and that there was no chance patient care had suffered. They were not critcised. Population validity was high as the nurses were simply those on duty at the time.It could be argued that people in USA at the time were more likely to obey authority than people from other cultures. The study was reliable as the procedure and conditions were the same throughout. In a field study it is impossible to control all extraneous variables.

The research supports Agency Theory and backs up Milgram's findings. The nurses' actions were consistent with being in an agentic state- they automatically recognised the doctor's authority and respond in most cases without question. The level of obedience was even higher that in Milgram's experiment.

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Key Study- Sherif at al. (1961)

Aim- To see whether is is possible to instil prejudice between two very similar groups by putting them in competition with each other.

Procedure- field study involving 22 boys at a summer camp. They were all fromsimilar backgrounds, were well-adjusted and normal. They were allocated into one of two groups. Each group was initially unaware of the other. They soon had a distinctive set of rules and ideas about how to behave and had chosen a flag and name. After a week, the groups were made aware of each other. Researchers observed that in-group/out-group terms were started to be used. Competition was introduced, a baseball tournament with prizes. The researchers manipulated the points in order to control the competition. Even before the tournament began the groups were fighting with each other and one group burn the other's flag. The prizes were stolen by the losing group when awarded.

Results- A stron in-group preference was shown by the boys in each group.

Conclusion- Competition increased prejudice and discrimination, leading to inter-group conflict.

Evaluation-  High ecological validity as the boys were in a natural environment. It had experimental validity as the boys were unaware they werebeing observed. However the sample didn't represent the wider population so the study lacked population validity.

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The BBC prison study (Reicher and Haslam, 2006)

Aim- To investigate the effects on behavour of putting participants into two groups unequal in terms of power.

Procedure- field study conducted with the BBC would later broadcast it. 15 men in a simulated prison-style environment. Participants were well-adjusted and there was a range of ages, social class and ethnicity. They were put into 5 groups of 3 on the basis of being more similar to each other. One was randomly selected from each group to be a guard. Guards were told their jobs was to ensure the prison ran smoothly and were asked to draw up a series of rules and punishments that complied with basic human rights and could not inculde violence. The researchers manipulated events to see the effect on behaviour, e.g. on the 3rd day telling both groups that promotion to guard was possible and allowing the guards to selece the most suitable prisoner. The chance to be promoted was then removed. 6 days in, the experimenters told the participants that there was actually no real difference betweenthe guards and the prisoners, but that it was not too late to change anything.

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The BBC prison study (Reicher and Haslam, 2006)

At first the prisoners adjusted their behaviour to get promoted. When the chance was no longer possible, they began to show strong social identity and tried instead to change the system. The guads did not show a shared social identity and did not exert their authority. They couldnt deal with confrontation and gave into demands by day 4. The prisoners became the more dominant group. By day 6, the system had collapsed and a single self-governing commune replaced it by majority decision. Within 2 days the commune collapsed and the dissenters from the day before proposed a heirachical arrangement with clear authority (they became the guards). This concluded that the study as the experimenters judged it to be unworkable.

Conclusions- When groups are formed with shaired norms and values, the members work together and become strong. Tyranny arises because of failed groups rather than because of tyranny of the group itself. When there was a possibility of promotion, the groups did not have shared norms and values.

Evaluation- Can be criticised for demand characteristics inherent in a televised observation as participants may have managed their behaviour in order to look good. It may therefore lack ecological validity. It could be argued that the prisoner group had the more domineering personalities in it, thus limited conclusions about the effect of grouping. However participants were screened to avoid individual differences.

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Key Issue- Abu Ghraib

Social Indentity Theory

  • In the lead up to the Iraqi 'terrorists' the media and the military created an out-group of terrorists following 911 and the pentagon attack.
  • Speeches made by the president and key military figures gave the public and in-group of being American and 'peace loving' and an out-group of 'terrorist' or Taliban or Al Qaida.
  • Americans were encouraged to identify with their nation in horror and outrage at the attacks and to encourage military to find the 'evil' people behind the attacks and destroy them.
  • Americans were encouraged to believe that they were superior to the Iraqi terrorists- forming deep rooted prejudice that would be used to justify the behaviour at Abu Ghraib.

Agency Theory

  • The US military were 'following orders' when they tortured and humiliated the inmates which means they claimed they were acting in the agentic state.
  • They did not feel responsible for their behaviour and they would suffereing from moral starin.
  • However it has to be questioned how much of their behaviour can be justified in this way- were they ordered to do all the acts, including carving words onto the bodies of inmates with knives?
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The practical.

Aim- To investigate prejudice between two different age groups.

Hypothesis- Each age group will significantly prefer people who are in their own age group (in-group) to the other age group (out-group) as shown by their responses in the questionnaire.

Sample- 42 16-21 year olds and 55+ year old participants through opportunity sampling as it is practical, quick and easy

Method- Questionnaire- easy to compare, more honest responses, easy to distribute and collect.

Background Theory- Social Idnentity theory- 3 stages, Tajfel, prejudice, discrimination

IV- Age group, DV- prejudice/ answers

Evaluation- demand characteristics-the participants could have either put purposely prejudice answers or purposely intentionally unprejudiced answers. Made sure all questions were understood by carrying out a pilot study. Some people didn't take the questionnaire seriously so answers had to be disregarded. All participants were given the right to withdraw, a brief and a debrief. We received informed consent and we told them to not write their names on their questionnaires so we could not associate the answers with a particular person. Confidentiality was not violated. We made sure no psychological harm was caused by any of the questions. 

Our research method used was a questionnaire but people behave differently to how they think so the answers we received may not accurately represent their true feelings and beliefs. Participants may have written down politically correct answers and displayed anti-ageism rather than their real views.

42 participants is a substantial amount so we could easily establish prejudice. Most of our 16-21 samples were in full time education which may not represent the target population of under 21 year olds who are employed. This means that there isn't high population validity as our sample may not represent our target population.

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