‘the Methods Available to Social Psychology Have the Potential to Reflect the Richness and Complexity of People’s Lived Experience in Its Setting, but They May Also Limit, Constrain and Distort It’(Hollway, Lucey and

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This essay will discuss both the cognitive social and the discursive psychological perspectives. It will explore the methodologies employed in both perspectives that is, quantitative in cognitive social (concentrating mainly on the laboratory based experiments as well as psychometrics methods) and qualitative in the discursive psychological perspectives. It will also highlight the strengths of the methods used in both of these perspectives as well as their limitations in reflecting the richness and complexity of people’s lived experience. Finally it will also highlight the differences as well as the similarities between the two perspectives.

Cognitive social is a perspective that attempts to understand the causes of individuals’ behaviour. It mainly focuses on analysing individuals’ cognition processes and how these processes are structured by the society. It explains that people experience the products of cognition processes as behaviour and since cognition processes are not directly observable, to understand them requires analysing of the observable behaviour when individuals are conducting different tasks. Therefore it employs quantitative methodologies and methods such as experiments are used. It later however developed methods of measurement that did not involve the use of experiments such as psychometrics. Other methods used in this perspective include field experiments, case studies and observation methods.

Experiments are useful tools in this perspective as they attempt to construct controlled social settings that mirror the larger world, allowing them to have the potential to reflect the richness as well as the complexity of people’s lived experience. For example, Milgram’s experiment, in which he was interested in understanding the three party situation (that is, when one agent commands another to hurt a third) was a good example of how an experiment can be designed to mirror relations of authority in the ‘real’ world (as cited in Hollway, 2007, pp.53-54). Experiments also allow the researchers to create theories and test hypotheses by controlling as well as manipulating variables and therefore focus on specific variables. They are also suitable for predicting outcome and producing countable findings, which can be vital for companies or government bodies who might be interested in understanding certain behaviours in people in terms of figures so as to consequently use those statistics for generalisation. Experiments also allow for replication which is crucial for verifying or falsifying theories. However, like most methods experiments have come under a lot of criticisms.

For example, experiments have been accused of being limited when it comes to tackling more complex questions and it has been claimed that the methodology does not allow for such complexity (Danziger, as cited in Hollway, 2007, p.49). They have also been accused of constraining people’s lived experience in that, because the relationship between the researcher and the participant is one of uneven power and the experiment environment itself is one that might be strange to the participants: this might cause the participants to give responses which they think are expected as opposed to what they would give in their everyday lives (Orne as cited in Hollway, 2007, p.51). Moreover, it was argued that the researchers themselves might unintentionally influence the outcome of the experiment by employing techniques that favour certain outcome (Rosenthal as cited in Hollway, 2007, p.51). Gergen also claimed that experiments are not appropriate, since by controlling and manipulating variables meant that the variables are not occurring naturally as they would in everyday life. It also meant that the variables were taken out of context which resulted in distorted or constrained meanings. Therefore Tajfel argued that experiments lacked ecological validity and Kelman accused them of lacking ethical considerations for the participants (as cited in...
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