Traditional experimental psychology has been criticised on the grounds of its objectivity and natural scientific human approach to research. The alternative paradigm has been suggested that favoured human scientific approach. One of the main differences between these two are reflected in the methodology, although it must be said that this distinction is not clear cut and there is a considerable amount of overlap that reveal complexity of the causes of human phenomena. In this essay, we will look at two approaches to psychological methods that produce different “knowledges” about human condition in social settings, i. e. they reflect on different psychological phenomena (as cited in Hollway, 2007). We will look at the “cognitive social” or “experimental” approach and “discursive” psychological approach and see what are the similarities and differences between them and how they view and use experimentation in the social psychology today.
One of the major differences in British social psychology today lies in method use, i.e. conventionally empirical social psychology that uses experiments and social psychometrics vs. “critical” social psychology, namely discourse analysis that uses qualitative analysis of text, also referred to as “interpretative” method of research (as cited in Taylor, 2007). The origins of this division lie in two different social psychologies that originated in North America, PSP (psychological social psychology) and SSP (sociological social psychology). PSP focuses on the individual, while the SSP looks at social interaction between the society and the individual. The first one relies largely on experimental methodology while the second one uses observation, interviews and surveys (as cited in Hollway, 2007). However, it needs to be said that both approaches “borrow” each other’s methods and this creates somewhat blurred working distinction between them.
British social psychology is largely dominated by “critical” approach, the critique being pointed towards laboratory-based questions trying to account for the complexity of people’s experiences in their interactions with the world and also towards the individual person being the centre of experimental quantitative social psychology approach. This strength of the critical, qualitative tradition in British social psychology emerged after the “the crisis” in social psychology. The crisis refers to critique of psychology by Kenneth Ring in 1967, stating that focus on individualism in social psychology as well as use of experimental methods producing “reductive and irrelevant findings” (McGuire 1973, Silverman 1977 as cited in Hollway, 2007., p. 11) brought social psychology onto a “state of profound intellectual disarray” (Ring, 1967., p.119 as cited in Hollway, 2007., p.11).
Empirical or experimental social psychology has its roots in 20th century psychology that was founded on scientific methodological principle, which uses experimentation and measurement methods, such as social psychometrics (as cited in Hollway, 2007). As a result, behaviourist paradigm was the dominant method used until 1970s. Cognitive paradigm needed a statistical method to look into cognitive processes so social psychometrics were used in addition to experiments and this became dominant cognitive social approach in PSP (psychological social psychology) since.
A good example of experimental method in social psychology would be Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority conducted in 1960s. In the very beginning, social psychologists were not aware of the principle emphasized by Danziger that practitioners operated in “micro-social context that might well have a crucial influence on the results of their investigations” (Danziger,...