Extracted from [], notes have been broken down into easy to read sections regarding the advantages and disadvantages of reductionism, the types, and application to psychological theory.

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  • Created by: Anna
  • Created on: 06-06-09 16:31


The argument that we can explain behaviour and experiences by reference to only one factor, such as physiology or learning.

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Reductionism And Determinism

Reductionism and determinism are closely linked, where you find one, likely to find the other.

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Rose's forms of reductionism: Methodological reduc

The use of reductionism as a method of investigating phenomena. A researcher reduces behaviour to a set of variables which can be controlled and measured, thus cause and effect relationships can be established.

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Rose's forms of reductionism: Philosophical reduct

An attempt to find a ‘Grand Theory of Everything’ – 1 language that can be used to talk about everything in the universe. Will help to form an all-embracing explanation of the world.

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Rose's forms of reductionism: Ideological reductio

A vested political interest, usually in the form of coercion (the act of compelling by force of authority).

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Types of reductionism: Physiological reductionism

Argues that all behaviour and experiences can be explained (or reduced to) by biological factors such as hormones or the nervous system.

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Genetic reductionism

Reduces all causes of behaviour to genetic inheritance.

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Social reductionism

Argues that all behaviour and experiences can be explained simply by the effect of groups on the individual.

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Arguments for reductionism

  • By breaking down a phenomenon to its constituent parts it may be possible to understand the whole.

  • This type of single mindedness has led to some great discoveries in psychology as it has in the 'natural’ sciences.

  • Is appropriate for certain levels of explanation – e.g. if you're talking about living cells, it makes sense to use cellular biology and not psychology.
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Arguments against reductionism

  • Too simplistic because they ignore the complexities of human behaviour and experience. Behaviour often has a number of different causes and to reduce the possible explanations to one level can only provide a limited understanding.
  • Inappropriate for psychology – methodological reductionism reducing complex behaviour to variables which can be manipulated and measured, the results from these types of experiments cannot be generalised as they lack ecological validity.
  • Holistic may be more appropriate for psychology– looks at the process as a whole.
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Reductionism in Psychological Theories and Studies

  • The cause has been linked to excessive activity by dopamine.
  • Anti-psychotic drugs can be used to reduce dopamine activity in the brain and symptoms of the disorder.
  • As a result, the drug itself may be able to eradicate schizophrenia by controlling the levels of dopamine. So where does this leave the environmental factors of schizophrenia?
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