MODULE 3
ISSUES AND ASSUMPTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGY
PART II



MAJOR ISSUES IN PSYCHOLOGY (Continued)


(Since this is the most important module in the unit, special attention should be devoted to it).

QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED IN MODULE 3:

  • 1. What is the difference between inductive and deductive methods?
  • 2. What is the relationship between determinism and environmentalism?
  • 3. How does nativism differ from environmentalism?
  • 4. What are the nomothetic methods and how are they different from idiographic methods?
  • 5. What is applied psychology?

    What are the Methods Used?

    The second major issue in psychology is what methods should be used. New methods will sometimes produce dramatic new findings. Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), the great American zoologist and geologist of the nineteenth century, claimed that greatness in science occurred because of the introduction of a new method. There are classical examples which bear this principle out, notably the work of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton (LeConte, 1903).

    The methods which a psychologist uses depend upon his philosophy of science. Methods produce information, laws, and principles. The methods determine how a psychologist will reach his goal. The methods of data collection are objective vs. introspective,and inductive vs. deductive.

    Objective vs. Subjective. Objective methods, those generally advocated by behavioristic theorists, are usually capable of replication. Subjective methods, on the other hand, are those relying on self report. Such reports are usually not replicated, even by the individual involved, since the experiences pass too quickly and only one person can make the observation. No observational devices, regardless of their sophistication, will permit introspective reports to be duplicated.

    Inductive vs. Deductive: Should the methods be inductive or deductive? Scientific methods are generally inductive -- a form of reasoning proceeding from the single or specific case to the general. By "general" we do not mean something "vague," but rather a statement which encompasses and summarizes several individual events or phenomena. The statement that "all dogs have four legs" is a "general" but it is not a vague statement. It is quite clear, but it is not a statement about any specific or individual dog. It is a statement about all dogs. Of course, some dogs may have only three legs if, by accident of birth or the dangers of living, they lack one leg. Just as the "all dogs have four legs" generalization may be untrue for a specific dog, so may any generalization be untrue for any one event.

    But scientists collect many bits of data. They look at Dog 1, Dog 2, Dog 3, etc.; or Child 1, Child 2, Child 3...; or Star 1, Star 2, Star 3... They look for a pattern. They hope that a generalization or conclusion may emerge. The scientist must use great skill to see the patterns and to move from a group of specifics to a general or more abstract level of understanding. This is where research design, experimental study, controlled observation and the use of statistics come in.

    Deductive methods, on the other hand, are used more frequently by philosophers and mathematicians than by scientists. Deductive reasoning begins from generalizations (opinions, apriori statements, basic assumptions, beliefs, or facts) and ends up with a specific deduction. Reasoning proceeds from the general statement to the specific and a conclusion is reached. The conclusions are really inherent in the assumption and no new information is actually gained. The classical form of Aristotelian deductive reasoning provides such an example: "All men have two legs (the general belief); John is a man (an observation); therefore, John has two legs (the deduction or conclusion about a specific thing)."

    Deductive reasoning is used primarily in technology or in applications of sciences. A technician or an applied scientist, sometimes referred to as an "artist," begins with the generalizations generated from inductive science and relates them to some specific person or practical problem to create better conditions for mankind. For example, Dollard and Miller's "frustration-aggression hypothesis" might be applied by a clinician as follows: Frustration or blocking of a goal leads to aggression (the generalization); John is unable to get a job (an observation of frustration); therefore, it may be predicted that John will exhibit some form of aggression towards himself or society (the deduction arrived at from the generalization and from the observation of a specific fact).

    Deductive reasoning may also be used along with inductive reasoning in theory construction, a more sophisticated form of scientific activity. Although we have rightly noted that scientific activity is primarily inductive, this is an example of an exception to that rule. And the best illustrations of this exception are found in physics with Newton; in psychology, by the mathematico-deductive theory of Hull. In the latter case, Hull started with basic assumptions and then deduced corollaries. These corollaries were subjected to experimental test. If empirically verified, they were then incorporated into the larger theory. Deductions may be the beginning stages for inductive investigations. But it is the inductive process that is uniquely science.

    How are the Phenomena Bought About?

    The third major issue is "What are the origins of psychological phenomena?" Two of these assumptions are major and are controversial: 1) determinism vs. indeterminism, and 2) environmentalism vs. nativism. Most contemporary psychologists are both determinists and environmentalists. Most scientists and practitioners are determinists. It is a common belief that natural events, caused by antecedent events, are, therefore predictable. Let us examine these assumptions.

    Indeterminism vs. Determinism. If one is an indeterminist then he claims that events are not determined. If events are not determined, then they are not predictable, and the future becomes forever unknown and unknowable. Events of the past do not provide a pattern, a key, or a clue to the future. Each new event occurs by chance, whim, or randomness. Such an unlawful, unpredictable, and random world is undesirable and untenable for both scientist and lay person alike. Most persons are indeterminists and would like to believe in free will, that they control their own destiny; but most scientists, psychologists included, are intellectual determinists.

    Determinism, on the other hand, holds that events are lawfully produced by certain causes, known or unknown. It maintains that 1) there are antecedent conditions responsible for the phenomenon and 2) that these antecedent conditions cannot be controlled by the individual. The oldest and most primitive form of determinism was the belief that gods, multiple or single, controlled the destiny of humans. According to the early Greeks, the fates controlled behavior. Much of this was predeterminism, which is not the same as determinism. (Predeterminism holds that the outcome is already "in the cards.") Later, the Greek Gods and Roman Gods provided explanations about natural phenomena and of man. During the middle ages, the Catholic Church was broadly deterministic and claimed that knowledge and will and thinking originated from God. Generally, however, determinism refers to scientific explanations about cause and effect and, thus, emphasizes the past as an explanation for the present and future.

    Psychological determinism as used in psychology is sometimes broader and may take several different forms. The most common is that used in the scientific sense, that phenomena are produced by past events. Sometimes conditions of the present or some anticipated events in the future, though usually not referred to as determinism, are seen as causes for human events. Deterministic theories also may differ according to whether the source of the stimulation to the individual is from within or from without. Most determinists prefer to think of outside stimulation as being the cause of behavior (external stimuli rather than internal stimuli). Such theorists are frequently referred to as peripheralists. At this point, it may be well to digress and examine the position of peripheralism vs. centralism.

    Peripheralists vs. Centralists. Some psychologists, assuming that external events are the major source of stimulation, are called peripheralists; they believe the physical environment impinges upon the organism and causes psychological events. Their explanations are more physiological. These peripheral (external) changes may be physical (e.g., temperature, light, sounds), or social (e.g. speech, writing, or facial expressions, etc. of others). Those psychologists who stress the past also tend to be peripheralists. The empiricists such as Locke, Watson, and Skinner maintain that knowing the relationship between past experiences and the present environment permits prediction of future behavior.

    On the other hand, there are other determinists (and non determinists) who believe that the source of stimulation comes from within -- from ideas, feelings, and inherited factors. Phenomenological, physiological, or personality psychologists commonly stress such factors. They are centralists because the brain (or central nervous system) or mind monitors the mechanisms by which determinism comes about. Those who stress future goals tend to be centralists. The Gestaltists are an example. A centralist might, however, be one who stresses either goals lying ahead (as the expectation function of the mind) or events lying in the past (personality patterns) which have been laid down over time and are influencing the individual.

    Nativism vs. Environmentalism. The second major metaphysical assumption is that of nativism vs. environmentalism. Few issues within psychology are more widely debated or more genuinely controversial. The issue is whether the subject matter of psychology (mind, behavior, or whatever) is more adequately explained by inherited or by learned factors or, more likely, by a combination of both. Nativism maintains that psychological characteristics are present at birth (e.g., intelligence, personality, physical traits -- qualities, not actions). Steven Pinker the psycholinquist from MIT, for example, in his book "The Blank Slate (2002), argues that the brain is wired with innate faculties that contribute to how we respond to the environment. Environmentalism assumes that mind and behavior are products of a particular culture and are learned. This issue is probably the most widely known and controversial one in the social sciences. It will be returned to later, especially in a discussion of empiricism, which is essentially similar to environmentalism.

    What are the Goals of Psychology?

    The fourth and last major question facing psychologists asks what the goals should be. The dispute is whether psychology should formulate general principles or laws (sometimes referred to as the nomothetic approach), or whether psychology should study and understand the individual person (idiographic). Dilthey was the first to make this basic distinction, when he- differentiated between the social and the physical sciences. This distinction was adapted by Allport (1937) in his classical differentiation between nomothetic psychology and idiographic psychology.

    Nomothetic. General psychology, the psychology of Wundt and of experimental methods,is nomothetic. But differential psychology, as represented by Galton, Freud's general principles, and those studying individual differences is also nomothetic. In both cases, the goal is to summarize specific events. Wundt studied the generalized human mind. Galton claimed to study group characteristics of persons. Both men produced general statements through inductive reasoning.

    Nomothetic psychology, a purely descriptive field, studies individual differences rather than individuals per se. It began with Darwin and his followers. Evolutionary theory focused on the way that variation among members of a species was both cause and effect of adaptation. Strong persons might survive and survival favored certain members over others. Therefore, if one could understand the variation, one might better predict adaptation and thus survival. Subsequently, one studies the variance within groups as well as between groups of persons. Statistical technique first focuses on the degree of variation (e.g., standard deviation) and then on the experimental design to determine whether variations in the independent variable produces variations in the effect. Both comparative (animal) psychology and developmental psychology thus emerged. The importance of comparative psychology was recognized by persons outside of psychology, such as Le Conte, who emphasized the importance of comparative methods. He maintained that fields become scientific only when they go beyond mere accumulation of data and begin comparative studies (i.e., comparative anatomy and comparative physiology)". . . and I may add, psychology will never become scientific except through comparative psychology (Le Conte, 1903, p. 149)."

    Most psychologists deal in some way with verbal statements or generalizations. These statements can be of two kinds -- descriptions or functional relationships. The simplest scientific statement is a description, a statement about the degree, extent or composition of a variable or phenomenon. For example -- urban children score higher on intelligence tests than do rural children. Motivation for success might be based on either physical or social drives. Such statements merely answer the question what is and do not attempt to answer the question how and why. Some psychologists are primarily interested in classifying, categorizing, and labeling; others wish to explain and predict. The second kind of statement in science is what is called a functional relationship. Such statements answer the question how or why by suggesting the relationship between two or more variables. These statements are a step beyond descriptive statements because they require a precise knowledge of each variable first and then purport to examine the relationship between two or more of them.

    The basic purpose of all experimentation is to formulate general statements about the relationship between independent and dependent variables. All of science can be summed up by the equation Y=f(X). The dependent variable (Y) varies systematically in relation to one or more independent variables (X). Y is the subject matter under study (movement of stars, growth of corn, reading speed of children). X is all the explanatory or causative variables. This is the simplest definition of a law, which Turner defines as ". . . useful generalization over a range of stimuli. . .a convenient summarization (1968, p. 14)." Further, Turner suggests that ". . . laws are adopted as instruments of understanding and prediction (1968, p. 13)." As you recall from your introductory and research courses in psychology, there are two major variables in psychology. The dependent or X variable is the psychological phenomenon being investigated. Generally it is some form of behavior or action, (a muscular or glandular response or action), though it might also be a mental product (an idea, attitude, personality attribute). The experimentalists and other nomothetic researchers formulate the general principles or laws and the practitioners or applied psychologists implement them.

    The end products of all this scientific activity are three in number: 1) general statements, 2) models for understanding, and 3) theory and systems. For the most part, these products are verbal, sometimes quantitative, but always abstract. At this point, we exclude from our consideration those personal and unique bits of psychological data called experiences because they border so closely on the poetic and the philosophical and are not included in our particular conception of psychology.

    Models, the second product of science, are constructions out of a group of fact; they help to organize and, by analogy, to explain a phenomenon. No new knowledge is produced, only new insights. A model suggests relationship which can be generalized and, therefore, either aids understanding or suggests deductions for new sources of inquiry. Examples are computer systems for the brain, physiological models of the thought processes.

    A theory or a system is an attempt to explain the facts by the elaborate interweaving of facts and principles. A theory should be considered different from the common use of the term (e.g. "hypothesis"). It is not simply an hypothesis or a guess. A theory goes beyond the hypothetical stage; it attempts to relate conclusions in a meaningful way. There are two major purposes of a theory; one is to explain the facts and make them meaningful, a second is to generate new hypotheses. Thus, hypotheses may come first, be partially verified, explained by a theory, and then lead to more hypotheses. A system, on the other hand, need not be explanatory. It may merely be an organization of the available facts in a way which aids either the future cataloging of new facts or the retrieval of old ones. Both theory and systems relate facts and give them meaning.

    Idiographic. An idiographic approach is advocated by a different set of psychologists. They recommend the study of individual persons rather than the development of explanatory concepts. Idiographic approaches study one particular individual rather than a group of persons. The clinician, conducting a case study of a child, and the educator, attempting to understand a student by compiling data about his reading problems, are both using idiographic methods. In both these cases, understanding the individual, rather than generating principles applicable to other persons, is the goal of idiographic psychology.

    Idiographic methods are used when diagnosing a problem. Much of clinical psychology first began as a diagnostic skill -- assessing ability and detecting learning or emotional handicaps. Only later did psychologists attempt to improve or change behavioral patterns.

    Frequently, psychological differences lead to heated debates about which goals or what methods are applicable to psychology. Meehl asked statisticians and clinicians whether it was more appropriate to use statistical or clinical methods in clinical psychology (i.e., whether nomothetic or idiographic approaches were better). The statisticians complained that clinical methods (idiographic) were "mystical, metaphysical, subjective, and unscientific," but that statistical methods (nomothetic) are "verifiable, objective, precise, empirical." The clinicians, on the other hand, described clinical methods as "dynamic, global, meaningful," and described statistical methods as "mechanical, pedantic, trivial, rigid (Miller, 1962, p. 317)." To understand this controversy within psychology, one needs to look, beneath the debates, at the implied or even explicit differences in methodology.

    Research vs. Applied Psychology. Should psychology be more interested in research or in application or both? More frequently true now than in the past, most psychologists are engaged in some form of applied work. Psychological principles arising from nomothetic studies are used to help solve practical problems. When a psychologist is engaged in applying research findings to aid in societal problems, it is applied work, and primarily deductive. Sometimes research and application (inductive and deductive; scientific and humanitarian) are combined, such as the social action research of Kurt Lewin.

    The distinction between general and applied science may be merely a difference in emphasis rather than a difference in kind of activity. According to Dupree (1963), Huxley was dissatisfied with the distinction "pure science" and "applied science," and stated that an applied science is merely the application of a pure science to some limited set of problems.

    We have examined some of the issues underlying theoretical psychology -- indeterminism vs. determinism, nativism vs. environmentalism, subjective vs. objective data, etc. The problems which they pose cannot readily be resolved. There seem to be recurring themes but not solutions. Some historians have attempted to identify these themes. Many of these issues or questions have confronted humans since the earliest times. Most of them revolve around assumptions about the nature of mankind. To recognize that psychological debate pivots on values and assumptions rather than on questions of fact, leads to a more reasoned approach to carrying out the responsibilities of both one's science and one's profession.

    MODULE 3

    PROGRESS CHECK 1

    Test yourself without looking at the reading. Select one or more answers which are correct or fill in the blank spaces.

    1. An example of the introspective method in psychology would be:

  • a. rats running in a maze
  • b. subjects describing what they see in a Rorschach test
  • c. college freshmen reporting their feelings about their grades
  • d. patients in psychotherapy describing incidents of sibling rivalry.

    2. Deductive methods are the major tools of:

  • a. psychologists
  • b. scientists
  • c. naturalists
  • d. philosophers

    3. Formulating a general principle or law after observing a number of specific events is a form of reasoning called:
    a. idiographic
    b. inductive
    c. deductive
    d. deterministic

    4. The end product of a scientist's work is almost always:
    a. some quantitative statement
    b. a prediction
    c. a generalization
    d. a technological advance

    5. Determinists are those who usually maintain that psychological phenomena are caused by events in the:
    a. past
    b. present
    c. future
    d. person

    6. One of the basic principles of psychology ("what psychology is all about") is summarized as:
    a. S=f(R/O)
    b. R = (S)O/f
    c. O=f(R,S)
    d. R=f(S,O)

    7. The controversy over the goals of psychology centers around the issue of:
    a. determinism vs. indeterminism
    b. nativism vs. environmentalism
    c. nomothetic vs. idiographic methods
    d. subjective vs. objective approaches

    8. One function of a theory is to:
    a. relate the facts
    b. suggest new hypotheses for research
    c. explain the facts
    d. all of the above

    9. A "peripheralist" is a psychologist who:
    a. is likely to be an S-R theorist
    b. emphasizes importance of early childhood training
    c. has sympathy for early British philosophy
    d. all of the above

    10. An example of an applied scientist is a:
    a. discoverer
    b. engineer
    c. philosopher
    d. researcher

    11. The end result of any scientific activity is always at least a(n):
    a. deduction
    b. abstraction
    c. applied statement
    d. prediction

    12. Psychologists differ about what the goals of psychology should be. The major issue here is over whether psychology should be:
    a. peripheral or central
    b. nativistic of environmentalistic
    c. idiographic or nomothetic
    d. deterministic or indeterministic

    Now score yourself by checking the Answers

    3 OR MORE WRONG, complete exercises on next page.
    LESS THAN 3 wrong, take Unit Test.


    MODULE 3

    EXERCISES




    1. A psychologist goes out and interviews 1,000 persons to determine their attitudes about political issues. Certain generalizations are then made about the nature of political attitudes among the population under study. Since there is no preconceived principle or assumption being tested, this procedure involves ________________________ reasoning.

    2. A subject reports on his personal feelings as part of a psychological investigation. Since this is data not subject to verification by others, the method used is called ________________________.

    3. Determinism refers to the assumption that all events can be explained by reference to some antecedent conditions which presumably "cause" the event. Most of these preconditions are outside the individual and, therefore, most psychologists are both determinists and environmentalists. But the preconditions can be within the individual (e.g., genetic codes) and thus imply deterministic nativism. Indeterminism is a point of view that there are no known necessary preconditions for an event, i.e., the belief that things "just happen," a point of view not generally endorsed by science. The belief that behavior can be explained by reference to the kind of child rearing practices which parents use assumes a _________________________ point of view.

    4. Scientific statements that merely summarize the data and do not attempt to explain the phenomena are descriptive statements. The sciences which primarily classify and summarize (botany, astronomy, etc.) are sometimes referred to as descriptive sciences. Statements or sciences that attempt to explain or answer the question how or why are functional statements or sciences. Gesell's work in identifying the different developmental skills exhibited by children of different age levels represents a
    ______________________________ science. Skinner's attempt to explain behavior as a product of
    certain kinds of reinforcements is more of a ______________________________ science.

    5. There are two major assumptions about how psychological phenomena are brought about -- determinism vs. indeterminism, and environmentalism vs. another point of view which assumes that personality characteristics are innate. This point of view is called ______________________________.

    6. A clinical psychologist studies an individual in depth. If the individual is merely being described and no generalizations are made about a number of specific events, then the psychologist is said to be using an ______________________________ method.

    7. An example of a functional statement in science is:
    a. most children are in school by the time they are six years old
    b. the average reading age level for ten year olds is 9.6 yrs.
    c. children learn to read faster when taught by sympathetic teachers.
    d. most children today like school better than did their parents.

    Now check your

    ANSWERS:

    5. nativism 7. C 8. A,D

    2. introspection 1. inductive 6. idiographic 4. descriptive; functional

    3. deterministic

    NOW TAKE PROGRESS CHECK 2


    MODULE 3
    PROGRESS CHECK 2

    1. Most psychologists today are:
    a. environmentalists
    b. nativists
    c. determinists
    d. nondeterminists

    2. Those who believe that psychological phenomena may be caused by factors within the person are:
    a. behaviorists
    b. indeterminists
    c. determinists
    d. peripheralists

    3. Scientific models are constructions which assist in __________ phenomena.
    a. verifying
    b. testing out
    c. experimenting with
    d. explaining

    4. Experimental psychology is essentially:
    a. nomothetic
    b. idiographic
    c. nativistic
    d. environmentalistic

    5. Applied psychologists are those who:
    a. work with clinical cases exclusively
    b. put scientific principles into practice
    c. are sometimes in opposition to research scientists
    d. may be interested in action research

    6. Clinical psychologists tend to be __________ psychologists. a. applied
    b. research
    c. nomothetic
    d. idiographic

    7. Determinism may refer to the fact that phenomena are caused by:
    a. the environment
    b. inner strivings of the individual
    c. a supernatural force
    d. inherited factors of the individual

    8. Functional statements in science are those which primarily answer the question:
    a. what
    b. how
    c. why
    d. where

    9. An applied science:
    a. uses inductive reasoning
    b. is a technology
    c. has few devotees among psychology students
    d. produces generalizations

    10. The major purpose of any experimental work in science is to:
    a. answer specific questions
    b. explore unique phenomena
    c. arrive at generalizations
    d. further idiographic psychology

    11. A particular psychologist believes that most persons should be able to control their behavior by some form of behavioral conditioning. Such a psychologist assumes that behavioral changes are brought about through:
    a. environments
    b. nativism
    c. determinism
    d. indeterminism

    12. The end products of science are usually:
    a. mathematical statements
    b. verbal statements
    c. deductions
    d. inductions

    Now score yourself by checking the Answers

    NOTE: Before you take the Unit Test, it would be a good idea to do the True False questions. All the statements are important. So after scoring it, go back and change the false statements (one or two ways) to make them into true statements.

    LESS THAN 3 wrong, take Unit Test. This link will take you to "ILearn." Sign on with your SFSU ID and password. Then click on the course (Psy 601) . You'll find the unit tests. There are 20 questions. You will have 25 minutes to take the test once you open it. So don't spend a lot of time looking around. Good luck.


    Top of page

    Psych 601 Home Page

    Unit 1 Table of Contents

    January 20, 2008