A Balance Between Nomothetic and Idiographic Approaches Are Needed for a Complete Study of Psychology

Topics: Scientific method, Psychology, Science Pages: 5 (1322 words) Published: June 25, 2013
“A balance between nomothetic and idiographic approaches is needed for a complete study of psychology”. Discuss this statement. Refer to at least one topic.

Table of Contents
Scientific approach4


The idiographic and nomothetic approaches in psychology are often regarded as representing opposing and conflicting positions about how best to study people, especially intelligence and personality. However, the two may be seen as complementary, with both necessary to gain a fuller understanding of human beings.

The idiographic approach focuses on: ‘the individual and recognises the uniqueness of the person in terms of their experiences, feelings, developmental history, aspirations and motivations in life, and the values and moral codes by which they live’. The word idiograph comes from the Greek word idios, meaning ‘own’ or ‘private’. Hence the idiographic approach in psychology is concerned with the private, subjective and unique aspects of a person and employs methods of inquiry which provide information about subjective experiences. The idiographic approach is characterised by qualitative methods of investigation. Qualitative methods include unstructured interviews, case studies, self report measures, introspection, and the psychoanalytic techniques of free association and dream analysis. The idiographic approaches is holistic and places great value on the individual’s conscious experiences. The humanistic perspective in psychology perhaps best exemplifies the idiographic approach. Freudian psychoanalysis can also be said to adopt an idiographic approach as he did not use any scientific method to test or find evidence for his theoretical claims.

The nomothetic approach in psychology focuses on: ‘similarities between people and attempts to establish general laws of behaviour and thought that can be applied to large populations of people, or indeed to all people’ The word nomothetic comes from Greek words nomos, meaning ‘law’. Hence, the nomothetic approach is most closely aligned with the scientific approaches in psychology. This means that it uses scientific methods of investigation, particularly experiments, to test hypotheses that are derived from theories about human behaviour and thought. The nomothetic approach adopts a reductionist viewpoint, placing great value on objectivity and replication. The behaviourist, cognitive ad biological perspectives best exemplify the nomothetic approach. Freudian theory also attempts to establish laws or rules about human beings, for example the psychosexual stages and the Oedipus complex. Freud believed these were applicable to all and the theory is nomothetic in this respect. Background

Humanistic psychology adopt a more idiographic approach, seeking the more unique aspects of individuals, rather than producing generalised laws of behaviour that apply to everyone. It highlighted the value of more individualistic and idiographic methods of study, particularly in areas of personality and abnormalities. Classification manuals like the DSM-IV, which lists the essential behavioural criteria of diagnosing autism, adopts a nomothetic approach and classify people according to particular type of disorders.

Traditionally, the idiographic and nomothetic approaches are seen as conflicting, with the implication that as a psychologist you can only operate from one of these positions. Cronbach (1957) identified this potential source of conflict between psychologists about how best to study the nature of what it is to be human. If the psychologist seeks to develop theories that apply to large populations then the nomothetic approach is preferable. If, however, the psychologist is interested in the uniqueness of a person, then the idiographic approach is the one to adopt.

Subjective experience
The idiographic approach is often regarded as non-scientific, as subjective...
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