Discuss idiographic and nomothetic approaches in psychology. (16 Marks)
The idiographic approach in psychology, derives from the Greek ‘idios’ meaning ‘private and personal’. The idiographic approach attempts to describe the nature of an individual. This approach studies people as unique entities, each with their own subjective experiences, motivations and value. The idiographic approach is associated with methods such as case studies e.g. Little Hans case study (whereby only one individual was studied), unstructured interviews, self-report which are all methods which produce qualitative data. This contrasts to the nomothetic approach which derived from the Greek ‘nomos’ meaning ‘law’. The nomothetic approach aims to produce general, universal laws and principles about human behaviour which consequently provides a reference against which people can be classified, compared and measured to predict and control any likely future behaviour. The approach is associated with methods that would be regarded as scientific within psychology such as experiments, which would include large numbers of participants in order to establish ways in which people are similar or different.
The humanistic approach in psychology is a key example of the idiographic perspective. Rogers and Maslow, took a phenomalogical and subjective approach in the study of human beings, only interested in recording the conscious, unique experience of the individual rather than producing general laws of behaviour. Such as Roger’s application of client centred therapy as a form of psychotherapy whereby he saw the individual as the expert on their own condition. This corresponds with the idiographic approach as it specifically focuses on the client’s subjective experience and the full nature of the individual. Furthermore, the psychodynamic can also be seen as an example of the idiographic approach because of Freud’s use of the case study method when detailing the lives of his patients (e.g. Little Hans) which involved the intensive and thoroughly recorded observations on the single individuals rather than groups.
Examples of nomothetic approaches in psychology tend to be approaches that are reductionist, determinist and use scientific methods as modes of investigation. Hypotheses are tested under controlled conditions and findings produced from large numbers of participants are analysed for their statistical significance. For an example the behaviourist approach can be considered to be a nomothetic approach as Skinner and other behaviourists studied the responses of hundred of rats, pigeons etc… in order to develop the general laws of learning. Additionally, biological psychologists have conducted brain scans on countless human brains in order to make generalisations about localisation of function. In which, hypotheses are thoroughly tested, statically analysed and general laws and principles are developed and used, corresponding with features of the nomothetic approach.