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Edexcel Psychology Social Approach

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Social Psychology

Name _________________________Contents
Introduction - course outline
Social Approach
Agency Theory
Ethical Issues
Meuss and Raaijmakers
Social Identity Theory
Sherif’s study of prejudice
Key Issue – social approach
How Science Works – social approach
Social surveys
Sampling techniques
Practical – social approach

Welcome to AS Psychology@Wyke

This study guide is designed to give you a detailed outline of the first part of the AS course and is intended to be used as a working document that will be referred to and drawn on throughout the course.

We hope that you enjoy studying psychology at Wyke and that it will meet all of your expectations. In pursuing it as an academic subject, we hope it manages to enlarge your understanding of the world and provides you with a useful examination pass.

There are a number of different examining boards offering AS Level Psychology. Here we deliver the syllabus or course offered by Edexcel.

Specification at a glance

Unit 1
Social and Cognitive Psychology
40% of the total AS grade
20% of the total GCE grade
Examined January 2013
Unit 2
Understanding the Individual
60% of the total AS grade
30% of the total GCE grade
Examined May 2013
Unit 3
Applications of Psychology
40% of the total A2 grade
20% of the total GCE grade
Examined January 2014
Unit 4
How Psychology Works
60% of the total A2 grade
30% of the total GCE grade
Examined June 2014

Unit 1 Social and Cognitive Psychology
This unit is designed to introduce the social approach and cognitive approach to psychology through the development of key content areas.
The unit includes two parts.
1. Social Psychology: social approach, obedience, prejudice, key issue, how science works, and a practical
2. Cognitive Psychology: cognitive approach, memory, forgetting, key issue, how science works and a practical
Within each part, the sections of the unit arise from the content which includes a selection of basic concepts of the social and the cognitive approaches.
The unit is designed to enable choice within each approach in the selection of a second key study and a key issue relevant to the approach. Within each approach there is the requirement for students to conduct a short practical investigation.
Assessment will include an examination paper of 1 hour 20 minutes duration, consisting of a section of objective test items, a section of short-answer questions and a section of extended writing.

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Social Approach
For this section you need to be able to:
(a) Define social psychology showing understanding that the approach is about aspects of human behaviour that involve the individual’s relationships to other persons, groups and society, including cultural influences on behaviour.
(b) Define and use psychological terminology accurately and appropriately including the terms: i agentic state ii autonomous state iii moral strain iv in-group/out-group v social categorisation vi social identification vii social comparison

Social psychology (or the social approach) is interested in studying individuals in a social context, such as family, friends, institutions, and wider society. Social behaviour may involve activity within a group or between groups.
According to social psychologists our behaviour is influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. Social psychologists also accept that culture and society influence behaviour.
One of the debates in psychology is whether an individual’s behaviour is a result of their personality or their social context. As you will see from studying social psychology, this approach emphasises the importance of the social context in shaping behaviour.
Below are some concepts that you are required to learn for this part of the course.
Agentic state
According to Milgram an agentic state occurs when people act as if they were simply an agent for authority; they do what the job requires them to and what they do is not their choice but their duty. When in an agentic state people take no responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
Autonomous state
According to Milgram an autonomous state occurs when people act as if free to make their own choices. When in an autonomous state people are said to have free will and control their own actions. They take responsibility for what they do.
Moral strain
According to Milgram moral strain is the negative feeling caused by doing something we believe to be wrong but feel compelled to do because of the social situation.
An in-group is a group to which a person belongs, or thinks he or she belongs. An out-group is a group to which a person does not belong, or thinks he or she does not belong.
Social categorisation
According to Tajfel social categorisation occurs when we categorise ourselves and others as members of various social groups. By doing so we tend to exaggerate the similarities of those in the same group and exaggerate the differences between those in different groups.
Social identification
Social identification occurs when individuals take on aspects of the group identity as their own such as adopting the group’s norms of behaviour and adopting the opinions and attitudes of the group.
Social comparison
Social comparison occurs when members of an in-group in order to make their in-group seem superior good make unfair negative comparisons to the out-group.


For this section you need to be able to: a Define what is meant by obedience. b Describe and evaluate Milgram’s (1963) study of obedience and one of Milgram’s ‘variation’ studies. c Describe and evaluate the Agency Theory of Obedience (Milgram, 1973). d Describe and assess the ethical issues arising from obedience research (as applied to the participants in the study and the wider issues for society). e Describe and evaluate one study of obedience from a country other than Milgram’s (USA). Suitable example: Meeus and Raaijmakers (1986) administrative obedience. Carrying out orders to use psychological-administrative violence. f Compare Milgram’s (1963) obedience study and one other from a country other than Milgram’s (USA) drawing cross-cultural conclusions. g Describe and evaluate the study by Hofling et al (1966) in detail.

Obedience can be defined as complying to the demands of others, particularly those in positions of authority.
Milgram. S (1963) Behavioural Study of Obedience.
The aim of Milgram’s (1963) experiment was to investigate what level of obedience would be shown when participants were told by an authority figure to administer electric shocks to another person.
The participants consisted of 40 males aged between 20 and 50 years of age who were recruited by a newspaper and direct mail advertisement which asked for volunteers to participate in a study of memory and learning at Yale University.

Each participant turned up to the laboratory alone and was asked to draw a slip of paper from a hat to determine which role he would play. The draw was rigged so the participant was always the teacher and Mr. Wallace (the confederate) was always the learner.
The teacher (participant) and learner were taken to a room and in full view of the teacher (participant) the learner was strapped into the ‘electric chair’. The experimenter explained to the teacher (participant) that the straps were to prevent excessive movement while the learner was being shocked; the effect was to make it impossible for him to escape the situation. An electrode was attached to the learner’s wrist and electrode paste (cream) was applied ‘to avoid blisters and burns’. The participant (teacher) was told that the electrode was attached to the shock generator in the adjoining room. The participant (teacher) then heard the experimenter tell the learner ‘although the shocks can be extremely painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage’.
Milgram created a phoney ‘shock generator’ which in the 1960s looked very impressive and realistic. The phoney shock generator had 30 switches marked clearly in 15 volt increments from 15 to 450 volts.
The participant (teacher) was then seated in an adjacent room in front of the shock generator and asked to read a series of word pairs to the learner. The learner was asked to learn (memorise) these pairs. The participant (teacher) then tested the learner by giving him one of the words in a pair along with four other words. The learner had to indicate which of the four words had originally been paired with the first word. The learner’s answer was communicated by pressing one of four switches which illuminated a light on top of the shock generator. If the answer was correct the participant (teacher) had to move onto the next word on the list, if the answer was wrong the participant had to tell the learner the correct answer and then the level of punishment that they were going to give them. They would then press the first switch on the shock generator (15 volts). For every subsequent incorrect answer the participant was required to move one switch up the scale of shocks (15 volts higher than the voltage of the last shock delivered).
If the participant asked advice from the experimenter, whether it be; ‘should I continue administering shocks’, or some other indication that he did not wish to go on, he would be given encouragement to continue with a sequence of standardised ‘prods’ such as “Please continue” or “The experiment requires that you continue”

All 40 of the participants obeyed the experimenter and delivered shocks up to 300 volts. 26 of the 40 participants delivered shocks up to the maximum 450 volts.
After the maximum shock had been administered, the participant was asked to continue at this level until the experimenter eventually called a halt to the proceedings, at which point many of the obedient participants heaved sighs of relief or shook their heads in apparent regret.
During the study many participants showed signs of nervousness and tension. Participants sweated, trembled, stuttered, bit their lips, groaned, dug fingernails into their flesh, and these were typical not exceptional responses. Quite a common sign of tension was nervous laughing fits (14 out of 40 participants), which seemed entirely out of place, even bizarre. Full-blown uncontrollable seizures were observed for three participants
Milgram concluded that the most important factor determining obedience is the situation and he put forward a number of possible explanations for this high level of obedience. Including the fact that the experiment took place at the prestigious Yale University, that the participant believed that the experiment was for a worthy purpose and that the participant believed the victim had volunteered to be in the study and therefore has an obligation to take part even if the procedures become unpleasant.

Milgram variation study (the Bridgeport Experiment)
Milgram put forward a number of possible explanations for this high level of obedience. Including the fact that the experiment took place at the prestigious Yale University, that the participant believed that the experiment was for a worthy purpose and that the participant believed the victim had volunteered to be in the study and therefore has an obligation to take part even if the procedures become unpleasant.
To test some of these explanations Milgram carried out many more variations of his experiment.
For example in one variation (Milgram referred to this in 1974 as experiment 10) to his experiment Milgram altered the location from Yale University to a run-down office building in downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut. Participants believed that project was being run by a private research firm with no connection to Yale. In this setting the obedience rate was 47.5%, suggesting that the original location had played some part, but it was not a crucial factor.

Evaluation of the Milgram Obedience Studies
A major criticism of Milgram’s study was his unrepresentative sample. Milgram chose to study only American men (thus he was deliberately ethnocentric), but from a variety of backgrounds and different ages. It could be argued that by using men this produced a sample that was biased, or did not reflect the general population. The study was also limited to those people who read the advertisement and were prepared to participate in a laboratory experiment. These men who replied may have been somehow different from the general population.
Because of such an unrepresentative sample the results cannot be generalised to all people. Despite this, Milgram concluded that ‘obedience to authority is not a feature of German culture but a seemingly universal feature of human behaviour’. A number of cross-cultural replications of Milgram’s experiment have been done (e.g. Italy and Australia) gaining similar results.
Another main criticism of Milgram’s experiment was that it was not ecologically valid. It can be argued that Milgram’s work was carried out in an artificial setting and has little relevance to the real world. However, less artificial studies have been carried out gaining similar results. For example in Hofling’s study (1966), nurses were asked to give potentially lethal injections to patients, and 21 out of 22 appeared prepared to do it. A further study was carried out by Sheridan and King (1972), where people were asked to give real electric shocks to a puppy. The participants obeyed even though they could see the distress of the animal.
A main strength of Milgram’s experiment was the amount of control he was able to administer. For example, participants believed they were being randomly assigned to either the teacher or learner, they believed they were actually administering electric shocks, they all used the same apparatus, had the same prods from the same person and so on.
A further strength of this study is that it collected both quantitative and qualitative data which it can be argued increases the validity of the study. Quantitative data included the level of shocks administered and qualitative data was provided through interviews and observation.

Agency Theory of Obedience (Milgram 1973)
Milgram developed his agency theory to explain the obedience demonstrated in his famous experiments.
Milgram believed that we switch between two states – the agentic state and the autonomous state.
The agentic state occurs when people act as if they were simply an agent for authority, they do what the job requires them to and what they do is not their choice but their duty. They take no responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and if these consequences are negative they might use the excuse of ‘following orders’ to explain their behaviour.
The autonomous state occurs when people act as if free to make their own choices, they have free will and control their own actions. They take responsibility for what they do.
Milgram stated that the situation determines which of these states we operate in. We are socialised to recognise, respect and to obey authority figures. Therefore we will do as they tell us when in a situation where legitimate authority is present because we become the agents of that authority. In fact we would find it hard not to obey even if we do not like what we are doing. This can lead to moral strain, which is the negative feeling caused by doing something we believe to be wrong but feel compelled to do because of the social situation.
Milgram explained that the agentic state has its origins in the socialisation process, whereby obedience becomes associated with rewards in infancy and this is further reinforced in the school years, leading to unquestioning obedience in adulthood.
He also explained that obedience can be seen as having survival value and that natural selection favours those creatures who fit into the social hierarchy and this explains why the behaviour was so prevalent in his studies.

Evaluation of Agency Theory
A main strength of agency theory is that there is considerable research supporting this theory. For example Milgram’s own research found that when ordinary people were put into a high pressure situation with an authority figure they would obey orders to shock another person and two thirds would continue to obey these orders right up to the end of the study. Moral strain was also evident in Milgram’s study in the way that participants displayed nervousness and tension. Support also comes from true to life situations such as Hofling’s study which showed that nurses at work in a hospital would follow the orders of a doctor even if it meant breaking hospital rules and overdosing a patient. There are also studies from different cultures supporting agency theory such as Meeus and Raajimaker who found that Dutch participants would harass a job applicant because they were told to do so as part of a research study.
The theory also offers a credible explanation for the actions of war criminals who claim that they were ‘only following orders’ and successfully explains other horrendous acts such as the Mai Lai massacre where US troops massacred a village in Vietnam because they had orders to ‘clear the area’. Similarly agency theory can explain the behaviour of the prison guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq when the tortured and humiliated prisoners of war – again arguing that they were just doing their jobs.
Following on from this it is possible that the explanations given agency theory could be used to reduce the dangers of people becoming agentic to avoid destructive obedience in the future. For example as part of training in hierarchical organisations people could be trained to take responsibility for their own actions. On the other hand, knowledge of agency theory could have negative social implications in that leaders could be trained to manipulate people into an agentic state.
A possible weakness of agency theory is that it does ignore dispositional reasons, such as personality, for why certain people may be more likely to be obedient. For example, Adorno proposed the theory of authoritarian personality arguing that some people, because of the way they have been socialised will be more likely to be obedient to those in authority. Similarly the situational approach proposed by agency theory can be seen to have wider ethical implications because it seems to remove personal responsibility from those who commit atrocities under pressure, thus offering excuses to people who follow authority even when they know it is morally wrong to do so.

Ethical Issues Arising from Obedience Research
The most common criticism of Milgram’s obedience research is concerned with its ethics:
Participants were deceived as to the exact nature of the study for which they had volunteered, and by making them believe they were administering real electric shocks to a real participant. However Milgram could not have found results that truly reflected the way people behave in real situations if he had not deceived his participants, all of whom were thoroughly debriefed afterwards.
It can also be argued that Milgram did not take adequate measures to protect his participants from the stress and emotional conflict they experienced. Milgram’s defence was that he, and the students and psychiatrists – who had been asked to predict the results of the first experiment – did not expect the results he obtained, and went on to ask whether such criticisms are based as much on the unexpected results as on the procedure itself.
It is possible that being involved in the experiment may have had a long-term effect on the participants. Before the experiment they might have considered themselves incapable of inflicting harm on another person unless the circumstances were extreme. Afterwards, this view of themselves was shattered. Milgram argued that such self-knowledge was valuable. A year after the experiments an independent psychiatrist interviewed 40 of the participants (many of whom had experienced extreme stress), and found no evidence of psychological harm or evidence of traumatic reactions.
In terms of the right to withdraw, it was good that Milgram stated at the start that the money paid to the participants was theirs regardless of whether they continued with the experiment. However, during the experiment the prods used suggested that withdrawal was not possible. This is ethically incorrect. Even so, we should consider whether the experiment would have been valid if the experimenter kept reminding the participant about his right to withdraw.
It is also worth noting that at the time Milgram conducted his research there were no ethical guidelines to breach. In fact it can be argued that Milgram’s obedience research was a stimulus for the setting up of the original ethical guidelines. It can also be argued that the benefits to psychology and society in general outweigh the costs the individual participants.
The situational approach proposed by agency theory can be seen to have wider ethical implications because it seems to remove personal responsibility from those who commit atrocities under pressure, thus offering excuses to people who follow authority even when they know it is morally wrong to do so. For example, Adolf Eichmann was often referred to as the ‘architect of the holocaust’. He occupied a high position in the Nazi regime and was selected for his good organisational skills which he used to arrange the deportation of Jewish men, women and children to ghettos and camps where they were subsequently mistreated and murdered. He was caught, charged, tried and subsequently hanged for war crimes in 1962. During his trial it became apparent that he was not some kind of monster but an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. His defence was always that he was simply obeying orders. However, if this had been accepted then Agency could act as an excuse for committing morally reprehensible behaviour, allowing people to abdicate responsibility for their own actions. This clearly therefore has wider ethical implications for society in the way that it deals with people in this situation.

Meeus and Raaijmakers (1986)
The aim of this study was to test obedience requiring harm to be committed but in a more up-to-date way than used by Milgram and using psychological violence rather than physical violence.
A laboratory experiment was used to test 39 Dutch male and female participants aged 18-55 to see how obedient they were when asked to administer psychological harm in the form of 15 increasingly insulting remarks to a confederate/stranger who was applying for a job at a university.
The participants were a self selected sample recruited by newspaper advert asking for participants for a study on psychological stress and test achievement. They were paid $13 dollars.
Like Milgram the researchers used a naïve participant to interact with the confederate. The participants were told to ignore the increasing objections raised by the applicant (confederate) and were told that they were helping the researcher with a project on stress.
They also completed two further variations; where the researcher was absent from the room when the stress remarks were to be delivered and one where there were two disobedient stooges.
The main results of the study was that 92% of the participants were fully obedient and delivered all 15 insults even though they said it was unfair and stated that they did not want to do it.
The variations, where a ‘rebel’ peer was absent and where the researcher left the room did bring about lower obedience. In the researcher absent condition36% were fully obedient and in the two disobedient stooges variation 16% were fully obedient.
Follow up questionnaires showed that the participants did not like the baseline procedure and were upset by it. 73% believed it was real, 23% were unsure and 4 % believed it was a hoax. In the variations a higher percentage believed the set up (83%).
When asked who was responsible for the participant’s behaviour in the baseline condition, 45% of the experimental group blamed the experimenter, 33% thought they were to blame themselves and 22% blamed the applicant! In the control group a similar percentage blamed the experimenter but more of them blamed themselves and slightly fewer blamed the applicant.
Meeus and Raaijmakers concluded that high levels of obedience are to be expected even 20 years after the original Milgram’s original study and that obedience in Holland (perhaps a more liberal culture than the US) is in fact higher than it was in the US in the 60s.
They noted that participants seem more likely to comply with orders to deliver psychological harm than physical harm, possibly because the consequences are not as obvious and immediate as hearing someone screaming in pain.

Evaluation of the Meeus and Raaijmakers study
It could be argued that the methodology used by Meeus and Raaijmakers was fairly ecologically valid as it was testing a type of obedience which is fairly true to life and also that the study had high experimental validity as since the majority of participants said in follow up questionnaires that they did believe in the set up however the external validity is questionable since this was a laboratory experiments and behaviour may have resulted from the unusual request of being asked to directly insult a stranger. It is possible that in a real life situation where participants did not know they were part of a study then disobedience would have been higher.
The generalisability of Meeus and Raaijmakers (1986) study is questionable as they used a self selected/volunteer sample. This was done in order to replicate Milgram as closely as possible, which as part of their aims, but this means that the sample may well not be representative of the Dutch people. It will only include readers of a specific newspaper and also people who volunteer to take part are likely to be more compliant, obedient, willing and motivated than those who do not volunteer.
The study is strong in that the standardised [procedure means that it could be replicated with ease and thus the reliability could be checked. There are many studies which replicate Milgram’s findings of high obedience in other non-US cultures, including collectivist cultures such as Jordan (Shanab and Yahya, 1977) and this suggests that these findings may well be reliable.
Ethically the study is also highly questionable since the majority of participants said they did not enjoy delivering the insults and would have preferred not to have done so. This may have caused them some degree of psychological distress. Also the study deceived the participants and generally speaking this should be avoided. However, this was necessary to preserve the integrity of the findings and was dealt with through the debriefing. However, the lack of informed consent, deception and distress caused suggest that this study could be seen as unethical. On the other hand considerable debriefing was carried out with the participants.
The findings of this study are particularly useful as they demonstrate that Milgram’s findings are not culture or era bound. They also support his claims about the circumstances that reduce obedience leading to further support for agency theory since when the legitimacy of the authority figure is decreased due to his inability to control the behaviour of the disobedient stooges, obedience decreases.

Comparing Milgram (1963) and a non-US study of obedience (Meeus and Raajmakers (1986)
Milgram (1963) and Meeus and Raaijmakers (1986) are similar in that they both aimed to study obedience to authority and to explore the circumstances under which obedience decreased.
However, Meeus and Raaijmakers aimed to create an experimental set-up which utilised a form of punishment which was more up to date and closer to real life experiences for the participants. They asked their participants to deliver verbal insults which could result in psychological harm whereas Milgram asked his participants to deliver electric shocks which they believed could result in pain/physical harm.
As Meeus and Raaijmakers used a punishment more in keeping with real life experiences the study could be said to have higher ecological validity than Milgram’s findings.
Milgram’s study took place in the Sixties in America whereas Meeus and Raaijmakers study took place in Holland in the Eighties.
Milgram’s study included some ambiguity about whether the electric shocks were dangerous as the voltmeter was labelled with words such as ‘danger: severe shock’ whereas the experimenter said that the shocks were ‘painful but would cause no permanent tissue damage’; Meeus and Raaijmakers study did not include such ambiguity and this could be seen as a strength of the set up over Milgram’s.
Both Milgram and Meeus and Raaijmakers used a standardised procedure to minimalise confounding variables, thus increasing the internal validity of both studies, this said a small minority of participants in both studies suggested in follow up interviews that they thought the set up was a hoax and thus the internal validity has been questioned for both studies.
Both studies used a similar size of sample of male participants and both used the same sampling technique; volunteer samples of readers of local newspapers. This means both studies are subject to sample bias and therefore the findings may lack generalisability.
Both studies has a similar set up in that participants were asked to deliver a command series of graded punishments, electric shocks in Milgram’s study and verbal insults in Meeus and Raaijmakers.
In Milgram’s original study he had no control group and the study was in fact a controlled observation whereas Meeus and Raaijmakers did have a control group who were allowed to deliver insults at a time of their own choosing and stop when they wanted to. This is a strength of Meeus and Raaijmakers over Milgram’s study as the control group provides a baseline for comparison. It was only in a subsequent replication that Milgram allowed his participants to choose the voltage of the shocks they delivered.
In both studies participants were paid a nominal fee for their participation and it has been noted that this may have affected the levels of obedience shown despite the participants being told they that they would still receive their payment whether they withdrew or not.
In both studies a series of verbal prods were applied by the researcher should the participant object to their participation in the study and show signs of wishing to drop out. This meant that both studies can clearly be seen to be studying the effects of an authority figure on individual behaviour however for the same reason both studies could be seen as unethical as the verbal prods compromise the participants understanding of his right to withdraw. Likewise, both studies used deception and lacked informed consent which was dealt with through thorough debriefing. However, Meeus and Raaijmakers study could be seen as more unethical as at the time of Milgram’s study in America, ethical guidelines were not as clear as they were in the late 80s in Europe.
Both studies revealed high levels of obedience, although the percentage of complete obedience (carrying out the entire command series) was higher in the Dutch study at 92% compared with 65% in America. In Milgram’s study levels of opposition were higher, in that participants argued more with the researcher, asking him to be checked and so on whereas in Meeus and Raaijmakers participants did enter into discussion but were less agitated and showed greater indication of moral strain thought this likely to be due to the physical harm they believed they were administering as opposed to psychological harm in Meeus and Raaijmaker’s study.
Meeus and Raaijmaker’s study had more detailed findings than Milgram’s original 1963 study as they conducted an independent measures design study with two more groups which replicated some of Milgram’s later variations studies, authority figure absent and the effect of disobedient stooges.
Both studies seem to support Agency Theory (Milgram, 1974) in that participants blamed the experimenter for their actions.
Both studies are easily replicable due to the standardised procedures and instructions to participants and this increase reliability of the findings.
It would appear that the high levels of obedience seen in Milgram’s (1963) study (65%) are not culture, or indeed, era-bound, as even higher levels (92%) were seen in a study of obedience conducted in Holland by Meeus and Raaijmakers (1986).
This suggests that obedience may be something which is found to a high extent across other cultures and therefore may support the idea that obedience is a prevalent quality as it has survival value, supporting an evolutionary explanation.
However, this conclusion should be questioned as the procedure used by Meeus and Raaijmakers differed from Milgram’s in one fundamental way, despite the many similarities, they asked their participants to administer psychological rather than physical harm and it is possible that participants were more obedient because this command induced lower levels of moral strain. Also another fundamental difference was that Meeus and Raaijmakers’ participants had consented to deliver insults (harm) whereas Milgram’s had not and this difference, which made the former study more ethical in some ways, also meant that that the levels of obedience may have been higher as the participants felt more obliged to continue as they had entered into the study in full knowledge of what they were being asked to do.
Also when drawing cross-cultural conclusions regarding levels of obedience one should be mindful that the two studies were conducted in two different eras as well as well as two different cultures and therefore the observed obedience in Meeus and Raaijmakers’ study may be a product of changing social norms over time as well as culture. Also both cultures could in fact be seen as fairly similar as both are certainly more individualist than collectivist. This said the highest levels of obedience observed in any Milgram replication were seen in Jordan (Shanab and Yahya, 1977) however this study again cannot be used to make direct cross cultural comparisons with Milgram since the study differed with regard to another variable as well as culture, and this was age since the participants were school children.

Hofling et. al (1966)
Hofling (1966) aimed to discover whether nurses would comply with an instruction which would involve them having to infringe both hospital regulations & medical ethics. The intention was to test the strength of the doctor-nurse relationship, regarding how far a nurse would go to comply with doctor’s orders against their own code of professional conduct.
Identical boxes of capsules were placed in 22 wards of both public & private psychiatric hospitals in the USA. The capsules were, in fact placebos (consisting of glucose). But the containers were labelled ‘5mg capsules of Astroten’. The label also indicated that the normal dose is 5mg with a maximum daily dose of 10mg. While the nurse was on duty, a ‘doctor’ (a confederate ‘Dr Smith from the psychiatric department’) instructed the nurse by telephone, to give 20mg of Astroten to his patient, a Mr Jones, as he was in a desperate hurry and the patient needed the capsules. He said that he would come in to observe Mr Jones in 10 minutes time & that he would sign the authorisation when he got there. A real doctor was posted nearby, unseen by the nurse, and observed what the nurse did following the telephone call. Hofling also included a questionnaire study where nurse participants were asked what they thought they would do in the same situation. He asked this questionnaire to student and graduate nurses.
There was a dramatic difference between the answers given in the questionnaire and the actual behaviour observed on the wards. In the questionnaire 10/12 graduates said they would not have followed the order and 7 mentioned reasons including the dosage discrepancy, hospital policy and need for written permission. All 21 of the student nurses said they would not have followed the order. However, the reality was that 95% or 21/22 nurses obeyed without hesitation even though when questioned later 11 said that they had noticed the dosage discrepancy. Many mentioned that emergency calls like this were quite common, no one asked for written consent but most asked the doctor to hurry. Only one nurse questioned the doctor’s identity and why he was on their ward.
Although the nurses believed that they would not obey a doctor unquestioningly if they were ordered to do something that breached regulations and endangered patients, it appeared that in fact they did just that. Hofling concluded that the nurses were not functioning as ‘intelligence’ on the ward and were merely deferring to the doctors. Whilst efficiency and trust are important qualities, the nurses should also have trusted their own judgement as they were putting patients at risk when behaving in this way. Nurses need to be trained to question doctors but in a courteous way without feeling disloyal. Doctors need to be made aware of the destructive outcomes of their perceived authority which may disempower others from thinking for themselves.
Evaluation of the Hofling et al. (1966) study
It can be argued that method chosen had high ecological because it was carried out in the environment where the behaviour being tested naturally occurred. That is nurses do normally show some levels of obedience to doctors in a hospital setting.
Although the study does have high population validity for nurses we do have to be careful generalising the findings to other professions.
As the study was actually measuring behaviour rather than opinions and feelings the study clearly showed that people often do not know how they would behave when put in a specific situation. The study therefore clearly demonstrates how people do actually behave increasing the validity of the study.
The study is also consistent with other research into obedience such as that carried out by Milgram and Meeus and Raaijmakers as it also demonstrating the high levels of obedience to authority even though the participants are being requested to do something that they know is wrong. However, Rank and Jacobson (1977) did find that when the drug was a familiar one (Valium) only 2 out of 18 nurses obeyed in a similar set up to Hofling’s. This suggests that it was not just the power of the doctor that affect the behaviour of the nurses but also a lack of specific knowledge about the drug.
A further strength of the study is that it highlights the need to provide training that does not encourage automatic obedience in all situations. Nurses should be trained to take time to think through their actions, especially in non emergency situations.
Although the study was very highly controlled, for example identical boxes of capsules were always used, because it was carried out in the field it would not have been possible to control all of the variables during the testing for example the nurses may have been distracted by a particular patient, although the researcher was watching to avoid this happening.
The study can of course be criticised on ethical grounds. There was no informed consent as the nurses were not aware they were being studied, although this would not have been possible as their behaviour would have been affected. Similarly the nurses were not aware that they could withdraw from the study and of course they were deceived and perhaps worst of all they would have left the study knowing that their professional judgement was in question as they would have overdosed a patient. However it is worth noting that the study was carried out before the introduction of ethical guidelines and the nurses were debriefed.
For this section you need to be able to: a Define what is meant by prejudice and discrimination. b Describe and evaluate Tajfel’s (1970) Social Identity Theory as an explanation of prejudice. c Describe and evaluate two studies in detail. One of these studies must be Hofling et al (1966) Study of obedience in nurses and one other study of either obedience or prejudice in the Social Approach. This must be selected from the following:
Sherif (1954) Robbers Cave Experiment
Tajfel et al (1970/71) study of minimal groups
Reicher and Haslam (2006) Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC prison study.

Prejudice is an attitude (usually negative) toward the member of some group solely on their membership in that group.
Discrimination can be seen as the behavioural expression of prejudice.

Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory as an explanation of Prejudice
Psychologists have developed theories to explain why prejudice exists, and then they conduct research studies to test their theories.
Henri Tajfel was a European Jew who suffered prejudice and discrimination during WW2. He looked to social psychology to explain prejudice and developed.
Tajfel developed Social Identity Theory which claims that simply perceiving yourself as belonging to a social group would be enough to start feelings of prejudice towards others. He argued that how you feel about yourself, your self-esteem depends on how you feel about the groups you are a member of. To boost your self esteem you automatically improve the status of your group—usually at the expense of another.
Social identity theory claims that prejudice is a natural outcome of social grouping, – it is inevitable, has 3 components and occurs in 3 stages
Social Categorisation states that we all automatically categorise ourselves and others as members of various social groups. Groups we belong to are our in-groups, groups we don’t belong to are out-groups.
Social Identification takes place with our in-group by taking on aspects of the group identity as our own e.g. taking on the group’s norms of behaviour, wearing clothes that fit the group and adopting the opinions and attitudes of the group.
Social Comparison occurs between our group and other groups that share something in common with us, these are the out group – in order to make our in-group seem good, we make unfair negative comparisons to the out group.

Evaluation of Social Identity Theory
There is experimental support for social identity theory. For example, Tajfel’s series of studies on minimal groups which tested to see if prejudice and discrimination could be created between people simply because he placed them into distinctive groups. He found that the simple act of grouping was enough to induce prejudice. Similarly, in a series of early studies into prejudice Sherif (1954) found that boys of a similar age and background were quick to become hostile to each other when they were put into two discrete groups during a stay at summer camp.
A further strength of social identity theory is that it provides explanation for real world behaviour. For example during April 1982 Police carried out a raid on the Black and White Café in the St. Paul’s area of Bristol. The local population (predominantly black) rioted causing wide spread damage. Several policemen were hospitalised. At first it was thought to be a simple case of mob mentality but careful examination by social psychologist Stephen Reicher (1984) revealed that it was much more controlled than that and could best be explained using Social Identity Theory. The targets of the violence were very specific, for example banks and local authority buildings, police cars and the like were attacked, but nearby houses and community buildings were not. Reicher argued that the rioting was a result of the local population reasserting their social identity when it was threatened by the action of the police. They only attacked out group targets. The out group was anyone or thing that represented authority. The violence was motivated by a desire to feel better about themselves by proving themselves superior to the out group.
Furthermore social identity theory can be applied usefully to reduce prejudice by using the common-in-group-identity model (Gaertner 1993). By re-drawing the group boundary to include rather than exclude the out group, then hostility between the two groups would cease. For example, in the case of a multi-cultural high school suffering from race related violence, researchers switched the students’ primary social identity from being race members whilst at school to being students of the school. There was a marked decrease in inter-racial violence.
A criticism that can be made of social identity theory is that it is too simplistic an account of group behaviour. Prejudice is usually based on historical relationships, rather than simply grouping. Conflict could be due to a history of competition between the groups. This idea is more consistent with Sherif’s Realistic Conflict Theory which is an alternative theory of prejudice
A further criticism of social identity theory is that by taking a situational approach it does ignore dispositional factors that may lead to prejudice. Perhaps some people are more likely to discriminate because of their up bringing or personality.

Prejudice Study in Detail: Sherif et al (1954) The Robbers Cave Experiment
To study the origins of prejudice in a group of school boys by artificially creating in-groups. Also then to reduce the prejudice created between the two groups by introducing tasks that required cooperation.
The experiment was broken into three phases.
1. In-group formation.
2. A Friction Phase, which included first contact between groups, sports competitions, etc.
3. An Integration Phase (reducing friction).
The participants were twenty-two eleven year-old boys from middle-class backgrounds who had not experienced any unusual degree of frustration in their homes, who were not school or social failures and who had similar educational level. These boys were taken into a summer camp in Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma. Before the start of the experiment, the boys were randomly divided into two groups ending up with eleven boys each.
The two groups were separately transported and housed in cabins within the same park. Ultimately, the groups were not aware of the existence of the other group during the first phase of the experiment. It is these two groups that formed the basis of group interaction which was the focus of this field experiment.
During the first week of the experiment, the groups did not know of the existence of the other group. They spent time bonding with each other while hiking in the park or swimming. Each group was asked to choose a group name which was stencilled on their flags and on their shirts. One of the groups chose Eagles as their group name while the other group chose Rattlers.
During this phase, the two groups were allowed to find out about the existence of the other group. The chief aim of this phase was the production of conflict between the two groups which was accomplished by a series of competitive activities in the form of a tournament of events which produced cumulative scores with a reward for the members of the winning group.
This step of the experimenters greatly increased the antagonism between the two groups. This was significantly evident during the tally of the scores where the Rattlers won the overall trophy. The Rattlers planted their flag in the play field as a reminder of their success. Later on, name calling started and the singing of offending songs was also observed.
To lessen friction and promote unity between the Rattlers and Eagles, Sherif devised and introduced tasks that required cooperation between the two groups. These tasks are referred to in the study as superordinate goals. A superordinate goal is a desire or challenge that both parties in a conflict need to get resolved, and that neither party can resolve alone. Challenges set up by Sherif included a water shortage problem, a "broken down" camp truck that needed enough "man" power to be pulled back to camp, and finding a movie to show.

In phase 1 choosing the group name allowed the members of each group to identify with their respective groups. It granted the members a sense of belonging and group spirit.
In phase 2 hostility between the groups was observed within days of first contact. Phase two activities proceeded as planned, but soon proved overly successful. Hostility between the groups escalated to the point where the study team concluded the friction-producing activities could not continue safely.
In phase 3 the superordinate goals caused hostile behavior to subside because in effect there was a break -down of the original in-groups and the creation of a new in-group which included all of the boys. The groups bonded to the point that, by the end of the experiment, the boys unanimously insisted they all ride back home on the same bus.

The Robbers Cave experiment showed how easily opposing in-groups and group hostilities can form. It also showed how conflict resolution could be brought about by setting super-ordinate goals that transcend intergroup conflict.
Evaluation of the study.
Ecological Validity (Task)
The two groups of boys in the study were artificial and did not share any history – this is unlike real life groupings. Similarly the competition created in phase two was artificial and did not necessarily reflect real life. For example, middle class boys randomly assigned into two separate groups is not rival inner city gangs, or rival football supporters

Population Validity (Sample)
The findings cannot be generalised to real life because the research used only 11 year old white middle class boys and excluded, for example, girls and adults. The findings therefore are not representative of all children and it cannot be assumed that prejudice would be created as easily in children from different backgrounds.
Reliability (Procedure)
The procedure used in the experiment was not standardised for every boy and due to the fact it was a field experiment there were many extraneous variables which could have affected the results meaning that the findings were not reliable.
Applications (Real Life)
There is a lot of evidence that when people compete for scarce resources (e.g. jobs, land etc.) there is a rise in hostility between groups. For example, in times of high unemployment there may be high levels of racism among white people who believe that black people (or asylum seekers) have taken their jobs.
Also, the findings of the study have been useful in helping people understand how to reduce prejudice by setting superordinate goals which would encourage the creation of a new group which includes everyone and gets rid of existing in-groups.

Ethical Issues
The participants (boys) were deceived as they did not know the true aim of the study. They believed they were at Robbers Cave on a typical Summer Camp. Also, participants were not protected from physical and psychological harm because in phase 2 of the experiment fighting and name calling occurred and tension was so high that the researchers called a halt to the phase prematurely. However, the nature of the field experiment meant that the boys had to remain naïve in order to obtain valid results.

Key Issue - Social Approach

For this section you need to be able to:
Describe one key issue of relevance to today’s society and apply concepts, theories and/or research (as appropriate) drawn from the Social Approach to explain the issue.
Suitable examples: blind obedience to authority in a prison setting (for example the Abu Ghraib situation) obedience during conflict resulting in harm to others (for example My Lai Massacre, Vietnam 1968) football violence race riots (for example St Paul’s, Bristol 1980) cult behaviour.
Note: in examination, students may be given stimulus material from a key issue to explain using concepts, theories and/or research (as appropriate) from the Social Approach.

Abu Ghraib
One issue that can be explained by the Social Approach is blind obedience to authority in a prison setting (for example the Abu Ghraib situation).
For example, during the summer of 2004 photographs of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners held by the US military at Abu Ghraib prison were leaked to the press. Following the outcry the soldiers involved were court-martialled and 11 were found guilty of abuse. They always claimed that they were simply doing as they were told (to soften the prisoners up for interrogation) and that they were no more than pawns of authority. The prosecution argued that these were corrupt cops who took pleasure in tormenting the prisoners in their care.
Milgram may have provided evidence for the defence because his research suggested that ordinary people will do bad things when put into a social situation that requires it. The soldiers were acting as agents for higher authority just as the teacher in his study obeyed the orders to harm someone else, so too did the soldiers in this case. You could argue that as this was their job then they are even more likely to act as agents and obey and this view would be supported by the way the nurses showed higher levels of obedience in Hofling’s hospital study.
Using social identity theory to explain this conduct also works because the soldiers would be part of an in group with the prisoners as an out group. They are at war and this would increase the desire to appear superior and boost their social identity leading to the kind of humiliation they caused the Iraqi prisoners to suffer.
On the other hand, this behaviour, though widespread was not universal, not all the guards engaged in it, one (Joe Darby) was responsible for leaking the photos and stopping the abuse suggesting that there was still room for autonomous action, even in this setting.

How Science Works – Social Approach
For this section you need to be able to: a Describe the survey as a research method in psychology, including the questionnaire and interview. b Identify, describe and apply unstructured, structured and semi-structured interviews, open and closed questions, alternative hypotheses and issues around designing surveys. c Describe and compare, including strengths and weaknesses, the difference between qualitative and quantitative data. d Evaluate the survey as a research method, including strengths and weaknesses, and the issues of reliability, validity and subjectivity. e Describe, assess and apply guidelines, such as British Psychological Society (BPS) guidelines, about the use of humans in psychological research including guidelines about what not to do, and what to do to protect human participants. Guidelines to include consent, deception, right to withdraw, debriefing of participants and competence. f Identify, describe and apply different sampling techniques including random sampling, stratified sampling, volunteer and self-selected sampling, and opportunity sampling, including advantages and disadvantages of each technique.

A self report is any method which involves asking a participant about their feelings attitudes and so on. Examples of self reports are questionnaires, interviews but note that self reports are often used as a way of gaining participants responses in observational studies and experiments.
Survey is a term used to describe a technique of collecting information, attitudes or opinions from a large number of people. Many surveys involve the use of questionnaires which are usually structured questions which are presented in a written form. Some surveys use interviews which are a method of spoken data collection. Interviews can vary in the amount of structure they use. Structured interviews maybe little more than a spoken questionnaire whereas semi structured interviews allow for an open ended description of the respondents experiences.
Questionnaires and interviews
Questionnaires are a type of self report method which consist of a set of questions usually in a highly structured written form.
Questionnaires can contain both open questions and closed questions and participants record their own answers.
Interviews are a type of spoken questionnaire where the interviewer records the responses. Interviews can be structured whereby there is a predetermined set of questions or unstructured whereby no questions are decided in advance.
The main strength of self-report methods is that they are allowing participants to describe their own experiences rather than inferring this from observing participants.
Questionnaires and interviews are often able to study large samples of people fairly easy and quickly. They are able to examine a large number of variables and can ask people to reveal behaviour and feelings which have been experienced in real situations.
However participants may not respond truthfully, either because they cannot remember or because they wish to present themselves in a socially acceptable manner. Social desirability bias can be a big problem with self report measures as participants often answer in a way to portray themselves in a good light.
Questions are not always clear and we do not know if the respondent has really understood the question we would not be collecting valid data.
If questionnaires are send out, say via email or through tutor groups, response rate can be very low.
Questions can often be leading. That is, they may be unwittingly forcing the respondent to give a particular reply.
Unstructured interviews can be very time consuming and difficult to carry out whereas structured interviews can restrict the respondents’ replies. Therefore psychologists often carry out semi-structured interviews which consist of some pre-determined questions and followed up with further questions which allow the respondent to develop their answers.
Open and closed questions.
Questionnaires and interviews can use open or closed questions – or both.
Closed questions are questions which provide a limited choice – for example a participant’s age or their favourite type of cheese. Such questions provide quantitative data which are easy to analyse. However these questions do not allow the participant to give such in-depth insights.
Open questions are those questions which invite the respondent to provide their own answers and provide qualitative data. Although these type of questions are more difficult to analyse they can produce more in-depth responses relating to what the participant actually thinks rather than being restricted by categories.
Rating Scales
One of the most common rating scales is the Likert scale. A statement is used and the participant decides how strongly they agree or disagree with the statements. For example the participant decides whether they strongly agree/ agree/ undecided/ disagree/ strongly disagree that Mozzarella cheese is great.
A Likert scale is type of closed question which is often used a way of measuring attitudes. Respondents are asked to state on a scale (usually it is 1 -5 or 1 -7) how strongly they agree with a statement. For example 1 could be strongly disagree and 5 could be strongly agree. Named after its inventor Rensis Likert.
A strength of Likert type scales is that they can give us an idea about how strongly a participant feels about something. This therefore gives more detail than a simple yes no answer.
A further strength is that the data are quantitative data which are easy to analyse statistically.
However there is a tendency with Likert scales for people to respond towards the middle of the scale perhaps to make them look less extreme.
As with any questionnaire participants may provide the answers that they feel they should and importantly as the data is quantitative it does not provide in depth replies.
Fixed Choice questions
Fixed choice questions are phrased so that the respondent has to make a fixed choice answer usually ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
This type of questionnaire is easy to measure and quantify. It also forces a participant to not choose a middle option.
However respondents may not feel that their desired response is available and of course the answers are not in-depth.
Psychometric tests are a type of questionnaire consisting of many closed questions. These tests are instruments developed for measuring mental characteristics. Psychometric tests have been designed to measure a wide range of mental characteristics, including personality, intelligence, mental health, brain damage and so on.

Reliability and Validity
Reliability refers to how consistent a measuring device is. A measurement is said to be reliable or consistent if the measurement can produce similar results if used again in similar circumstances. For example, if a speedometer gave the same readings at the same speed it would be reliable. If it didn’t it would be pretty useless and unreliable.
Importantly reliability of self-report measures, such as psychometric tests and questionnaires can be assessed using the split half method. This involves splitting a test into two and having the same participant doing both halves of the test. If the two halves of the test provide similar results this would suggest that the test has internal reliability.
There are a number of ways to improve the reliability of self-report techniques. For example ambiguous questions could be clarified or in the case of interviews the interviewers could be given training.
This refers to whether a study measures or examines what it claims to measure or examine. Questionnaires are said to often lack validity for a number of reasons. Participants may lie; give answers that are desired and so on. It is argued that qualitative data is more valid than quantitative data.
A way of assessing the validity of self report measures is to compare the results of the self report with another self report on the same topic. (This is called concurrent validity). For example if an interview is used to investigate sixth form students attitudes to smoking the scores could be compared with a questionnaire of sixth formers attitudes to smoking.
There are a number of ways to improve the validity of self report techniques. For example leading questions could be avoided, open questions could be added to allow respondents to expand upon their replies and confidentiality could be reinforced to allow respondents to give more truthful responses.
A number of ethical issues can arise with self-report techniques. For example, it is expected that researchers will obtain informed consent from all respondents unless some form of deception is necessary. If some deception is used it is important that researchers debrief the respondents. It is important that questions do not cause psychological harm such as embarrassment or by asking sensitive/personal questions and that the researchers respect the confidentiality of their participants, for example, by not recording the respondents named.
When using self report measures psychologists often use pilot studies. A pilot study is a smaller version of a study carried out before the main research. Pilot studies are useful because they can test if the participants understand the instructions and questions.
One of the most important issues about any type of method is how representative of the population the results are.
The population is the group of people from whom the sample is drawn. For example if the sample of participants is taken from sixth form colleges in Hull, the findings of the study can only be applied to that group of people and not all sixth form students in the UK and certainly not all people in the world.
Obviously it is not usually possible to test everyone in the target population so therefore psychologists use sampling techniques to choose people who are representative (typical) of the population as a whole.
Generalisability refers to the extent to which results from one sample of participants can be applied to wider groups. The generalisability of the results of a study is partly dependent on the success of the sampling technique (e.g. was the sample representative of the population) and the representativeness of the population chosen (for example if the sample was taken from students then it is not reasonable to generalise the results to all types of people)
Opportunity Sampling
Opportunity sampling is the sampling technique most used by psychology students. It consists of taking the sample from people who are available at the time the study is carried out and fit the criteria your are looking for. This may simple consist of choosing the first 20 students in your college canteen to fill in your questionnaire.
It is a popular sampling technique as it is easy in terms of time and therefore money. For example the researcher may use friends, family or colleagues. It can also be seen as adequate when investigating processes which are thought to work in similar ways for most individuals such as memory processes.
Sometimes, particularly with natural experiments opportunity sampling has to be used as the researcher has no control over who is studied. However, there are many weaknesses of opportunity sampling.
Opportunity sampling can produce a biased sample as it is easy for the researcher to choose people from their own social and cultural group. This sample would therefore not be representative of your target population as you friends may have different qualities to people in general.
A further problem with opportunity sampling is that participants may decline to take part and your sampling technique may turn into a self selected sample.
Self selected sampling
Self selected sampling (or volunteer sampling) consists of participants becoming part of a study because they volunteer when asked or in response to an advert. This sampling technique is used in a number of the core studies, for example Milgram (1963). This technique, like opportunity sampling, is useful as it is quick and relatively easy to do. It can also reach a wide variety of participants. However, the type of participants who volunteer may not be representative of the target population for a number of reasons. For example, they be more obedient, more motivated to take part in studies and so on.
Random Sampling
This is a sampling technique which is defined as a sample in which every member of the population has an equal chance of being chosen. This involves identifying everyone in the target population and then selecting the number of participants you need in a way that gives everyone in the population an equal chance of being picked. For example, you could put all of the names of the students at your college in a hat and pick out however many you need.
Random sampling is the best technique for providing an unbiased representative sample of a target population.

However random sampling does have limitations. Random sampling can be very time consuming and is often impossible to carry out, particularly when you have a large target population, of say all students. For example if you do not have the names of all the people in your target population you would struggle to conduct a random sample.

If you ask people to volunteer for a study the sample is already not random as some people may be more or less likely to volunteer for things. Similarly if you decided to put out an advert for participants it would be almost impossible to guarantee that every member of your target population has an equal chance of viewing the advert.
Stratified Sampling
Stratified sampling involves classifying the population into categories and then choosing a sample which consists of participants from each category in the same proportions as they are in the population. For example, if you wanted to carry out a stratified sample of students from a sixth form college you might decide that important variables are sex, 1st or 2nd years, age, have a part-time job and so on. You could then identify how many participants there are in each of these categories and choose the same proportion of participants in these categories for your study.

The strength of stratified sampling is therefore that your sample should be representative of the population. However, stratified sampling can be very time consuming as the categories have to be identified and calculated. As with random sampling, if you do not have details of all the people in your target population you would struggle to conduct a stratified sample.
If the sample is not randomly selected from the categories it is then called a quota sample.
Snowball Sampling
Snowball sampling can be used if your population is not easy to contact. For example if you were interested in studying students who take illegal drugs you may ask a participant who fits your target population to tell their friends about the study and ask them to get in touch with the researcher and so on.

Practical – Social Approach
For this section you need to be able to: a Devise and conduct one practical to gather data relevant to topics covered in the Social Approach, which must be a survey (questionnaire or interview) to gather relevant data. The survey should gather both qualitative and quantitative data. This practical must be designed and conducted according to ethical principles.
Suitable examples: gender differences in obedience prejudicial attitudes towards age in group/out group attitudes. b Make design decisions in devising an interview schedule/questionnaire including sampling decisions. c Collect data and present an analysis of both the qualitative and quantitative data and draw brief conclusions about the topic from the analyses.
Note: students must be prepared to answer examination questions focused on practical work, which will include questions about the practical exercises themselves and questions about the general methodological issues that are specified for this particular unit. This will include the following requirements. d Identify, describe and apply the following: i unstructured, structured and semi-structured interviews ii alternative hypotheses iii qualitative and quantitative data iv sampling (including random, self-selected and volunteer, stratified, and opportunity sampling) v unstructured, structured and semi structured vi ethical guidelines of consent, deception, right to withdraw, debriefing and competence vii ways of analysing qualitative data, e.g. use of themes.

Social Approach Practical

Background – Milgram’s Agency Theory

Research Question – Will psychology students be less obedient than non psychology students.

Aim – To investigate whether psychology students will be less obedient than non psychology students.

IV – Psychology student or not.

DV Obedience level on a scale of 1 to 6 with 6 being very obedient

Hypothesis – Psychology students will be significantly less obedience on a scale of 1 to 6 than non psychology students.

The above hypothesis is one tailed as it is predicting a direction with psychology students being less obedience than non psychology students not just a difference.

Null Hypothesis – There will be no significant difference between the obedience levels of psychology and non psychology students on a scale of 1 to 6.

A questionnaire was used as this is a quick cheap and easy way (compared with say an experiment) of collecting lots of information about obedience levels. It is also much more ethical than carrying out an experiment on obedience levels.

Target population – Students at Wyke College

Sampling technique – Opportunity as it consisted of choosing people who were available at the time and place the study was done and who fitted the criteria.

Sample – 36 students (24 non psychology and 12 psychology students) aged 16 to 19 and included males and females.

We considered the ethical issues of confidentiality as we didn’t ask for names, protection as we didn’t ask any embarrassing questions and consent as we told participants what the study was about.

Standardised Instructions – Hello I am conducting a short questionnaire about obedience (that is whether people will do what they are told) for my psychology coursework. Would you mind spending a couple of minutes filling it in?


Made a questionnaire which was printed out 36 times.

Walked into the canteen and asked first participant who was available and seemed to be sitting alone if they would complete a questionnaire.

This was carried out at 2pm on a Wednesday in the canteen.

If they agreed they were read out standardised instructions, handed the questionnaire and pen and asked to complete questionnaire.

After they had completed the questionnaire the participants were debriefed.

Debriefing instructions

“Thank you for filling in the questionnaire. It was a study of obedience between psychology and non psychology students. The results are not important and only going to be used for my coursework. If you have any questions please do ask”

Materials used – A questionnaire was used with three questions a closed question, and Likert type question and an open question.


1. Are you a psychology student Yes □ No □

2. If Jay (the principal) asked you to steal a book from the library how likely would you to be to do so?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Not Very at all likely

3. Why do you think people steal books?

Results for the open questions were – Many reasons were given such as people do it for thrills, for boredom and because they were poor.

Results for the Likert type question.

A table to show the measures of central tendency and measures of dispersion for obedience levels of psychology and non psychology students.

Psychology students
Non psychology students

A bar chart showing the obedience levels of psychology and non psychology students

Interpretation of results – psychology students were less obedient than non psychology students e.g. the median Likert score for psychology students was 2 and the median score for non psychology students was 5.

Relationship to hypothesis – It was possible to reject the null hypothesis. Therefore psychology students were less obedient on a scale of 1 to 6 than non psychology students.

In conclusion - psychology students were less obedient than non psychology students suggesting that awareness of research into obedience and agency theory is enough to reduce blind obedience.

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