Friday, 19 June 2015


Nature/Nurture debate:

  • This debate is the argument that behaviour is either genetically determined (nature) or whether they are acquired through experiences or influences from the environment (nurture). 
  • Both sides of the debate view human behaviour in a very deterministic way as neither account for freewill. 
  • However, many psychologists acknowledge that both nature and nurture can influence behaviour. 


Strengths of the debate:
  • Understanding and identifying certain behaviours that are inherited or learned can help us to intervene accordingly i.e. useful applications. For example if we understand schizophrenia is influenced by certain chemicals and hormones, we can administer medication to help balance these biological irregularities to treat schizophrenia. On the nurture side, if we understand that when children are brought up in violent families they are highly likely to commit violent crimes later on in life, we can try to place interventions that help to prevent this, possibly education on parenting. 
Weaknesses of the debate:
  • It is too simplistic to divide explanations into either nature or nurture, as the two always combine in complex ways to influence behaviour. It is impossible to study nature, without the effect of nurture as an extraneous variable, and vice versa. 
  • Discovering that certain behaviours are inherited (e.g. personality, intelligence) may not be helpful. It can lead to the assumption that these types of behaviour are difficult to change through the environment. This restricts the useful applications.    


There are two forms of ethnocentrism. The first, more severe is an explicit belief that ones own group (ethnic, social, cultural) is the most important. For example: a judicial/law system that is run by white males, and is highly likelihood to provide a death sentence to people of a black ethnicity compared to a white ethnicity. 

The other type is a softer version, it is the idea that individuals (who are brought up in a certain culture) find it difficult to think outside their own cultural experience. This leads to people assuming that the way things happen in their own culture, is the same as the things that happen in all other cultures. For example: a white British nurse giving a Muslim patient a full English for breakfast. She has assumed that her British culture of eating that food, also applies to other cultures.  

This ethnocentric view means that, in research psychologists might design research or draw conclusions in a way that makes sense to their on cultural group, but may have little meaning to other cultural groups. This means that psychologists should be very careful when generalising their findings to other culture groups. This is because the sample in one piece of research may only reflect one culture. 

In addition, ethnocentrism can also occur when a researcher is analysing or interpreting data. Again, because the researcher has been brought up in a certain culture, this cultural influence may play a role in the way data is interpreted, making the data invalid, and extremely ungeneralisable to the culture being studied. For example an American male researcher has gone to Uganda to assess how parents interact with their children. These cultures are extremely different, and some behaviours maybe misinterpreted due to the researchers views from his American culture. 

Strengths of studying ethnocentrism:
  • Ethnocentrism causes prejudice and discrimination, by understanding this it can help us to understand how discrimination arises in the first place. 
  • By understanding ethnocentrism, researchers are better prepared in addressing it, in order to improve researches generalisability. Researchers must be aware of ethnocentrism when generalising and interpreting data in order to avoid biased and invalid findings. 

Is psychology a science or not?

This is the debate to whether psychology can actually be considered as a science or not. 

Psychology is a science:

  • It is a research-based subject with investigation as its core, very similar to other sciences such as biology and physics. 
  • Psychology uses the scientific method in its investigations. Research is carried out through experimentation and uses many controls, which means cause and effect can be established. 
  • Like other sciences, psychology has theories. Theories generate hypotheses and these are tested empirically, so that the theories are tested and refined. 
Psychology is not a science:

  • Psychologists study humans. They cannot be investigated in the same way as subject matter of e.g. chemistry or physics. People are aware of being investigated and this can alter behaviour. This makes psychology less of a science as it means humans will always have extraneous variables which will effect behaviour, lessening cause and effect. 
  • Much of psychology is about the mind. This is highly subjective and not open to scientific research because it is not actually observable. Psychologists only infer what is happening rather than what is actually happening. 
  • Psychological findings are always based on probabilities. Therefore, psychology is not a science as it finds probabilities not facts. 
  • Lots of material which is called psychology is clearly not a science e.g. Freudian theories. 

Individual and situational

The individual explanation argues that behaviour is a result of a particular feature or characteristic of an individual, whereas the situational explanation would look at the influence of social groups and the environment. For example; suppose a young lad is violent and commits a crime. Was this because he has a violent personality (individual)? Or was it because he was provoked, or that his parents encourage violent behaviour, or that all boys should be aggressive in order to fit in with social expectations (situational)?  


Strengths of the debate:
  • If psychologists can understand which behaviours are individually determined and which are situationally determined, such findings maybe useful for society when trying to understand or change certain behaviours. 
  • Discovering that behaviours may involve a complex interaction between individual and situational factors opens up new direction for further study. 
Weaknesses of the debate:
  • It is very difficult to separate the effects of a situation from the individual. This is very similar to the nature/nurture debate, in the sense that is is impossible to study them separately as they will always influence together. 
  • When situations are studied in a lab environment it is low in ecological validity. Therefore it is often hard to apply findings to real life. 
  • As with the nature/nurture debate, the situational/individual debate are direct alternatives and therefore there maybe a complex interaction between the two. 

The usefulness of psychological research 

This is more of an issue than a debate. This is the idea that some psychological research is useful, whereas other research may not be seen as useful.

Strengths of useful research:

  • Research is useful when it can benefit society and improve the world we live in
  • Research is useful when it enhances psychology as a subject i.e. we find value in studying subjective matter such as the mind. 
  • Research is useful when it can generalised to a wider population. 
Weaknesses of useful research:
  • Breaking ethics can make research less valuable, useful o respected (check out a psychologist called Harlow who went way too far with his research on monkeys). However, sometimes ethics may need to be broken in order to be more realistic to real life, and therefore more useful. 
  • Studies that are ecologically valid tend to be more useful as they more closely reflect true situations. 
  • Research should apply knowledge of ethnocentrism in order to be useful. Those that do not lead to research that is unrepresentative and therefore less useful. 
  • Any research that is reductionist is seen to be less useful. This is because many factors combined influence behaviour. Having a holistic approach is therefore more useful. 

 Freewill and Determinism debate

This debate is the idea that all behaviours, mental acts, thoughts, decisions, are determined by factors out of our control (determinism) or that behaviours and mental acts are a result of our own choice i.e. we exercise are own free-will and make our own conscious choices and decisions.   

Lets take the cheery example of suicide to show the arguments that the freewill/determinism debate has. 

Determinist explanations might say that the suicide could have been predicted through a number of possible factors that determined the individuals suicide. For example, the individuals upbringing, a genetic disposition of helplessness, faulty though patterns that focus on negativity. These deterministic explanations come from any approach - physiological, developmental, cognitive and so on. Determinists would argue that the individual did not actively choose to commit suicide (even if the individual believes they did), instead, the individuals suicide was the result of a long chain of events. Freewill would empathise that the person chose to take their own life and that equally they may have chosen not to commit suicide.         


There are too types of determinism - Soft determinism (humans do have choices to make and can exercise freewill, but often these choices are determined by certain factors), and Hard determinism (you have no free will whats so ever, and choice is just an illusion)

Free will:

Free will is difficult to evaluate. Freewill is a positive way to view behaviour, it enables a conscious reflection on our own behavior and is seen as the best way of achieving goals and learning from mistakes. Believing that our behaviour is determined can lead to people not taking responsibility for their actions. In addition, having freewill allows people to feel in control of their lives. 

Strengths of determinism:
  • Having deterministic views helps the world to be more understandable and predictable. This suggests that it could be worthwhile in trying to change certain things such as the education system or child-rearing practices as it could have positive effects
  • Determinism is the root purpose and goal of science i.e. explaining causes of behaviour. This makes this debate more acceptable in society with its explanations and scientific basis. 

Weaknesses of determinism:
  • It does not allow for freewill. An extreme determinist would say that free will in an illusion - we think we have choice, but we do not. This can be extremely difficult for someone to cope with in certain situations. For example, say if your family was murdered by a young man, could we truly claim any justice if we believe that the young man did not choose to do it. How could we punish him if it wasn't his fault, but it was other factors that determined him to kill?
  • Determinism can never fully explain behaviour because behaviour is far too complex and a deterministic view is often a reductionist one. 

Reductionism and Holism debate 

The reductionist view if the world looks for explanations which breaks things down into smaller parts. This can be powerful, but sometimes provides an explanation which too simplistic, ignoring other important factors.This means that it is often difficult to understand the whole meaning if you are only studying parts of it. A holistic view looks at the person as a whole, or perhaps looks at a number of complex factors which together might explain a particular behaviour. 

Again it is difficult to evaluate holism, as it will always be a positive thing to look at numerous influencing factors or to look at an individual as a whole. The only weakness of holism, is that sometimes research may not always consider how all the factors link and influence together, and researchers may lose detail in each factor if focusing on many of them. 

Strengths of reductionism:
  • It helps us to understand the world, as a fundamental way of understanding is to analyse, break things down into component parts, test them and then build them back up again. This is important in studying the world and humans in a scientific way. This is because it allows researchers to control for extraneous variables in order to establish cause and effect on certain variables and outcomes. 
  • In theory it is easier to study one component rather than several interacting components. If one component is isolated and others are controlled then the study is more objective and scientifically acceptable. In addition, if you are focusing on one factor, researchers are able to study that factor in great depth. 
Weaknesses of reductionism:

  • Because it can isolate factors, it does not always give a proper, valid and full account of behaviour.
  • components maybe difficult to isolate and so manipulate. Any behaviour may not be meaningful if it is studies in isolation from the wider context. 

1 comment:

  1. thank you so much i litteraly couldnt find anywhere that laid it out as simple as this