A Comparison of the Different Kinds of Understanding that Social Psychology Offers

A Comparison of the Different Kinds of Understanding that Social Psychology Offers
A Comparison of the Different Kinds of Understanding that Social Psychology Offers
Works Cited Not Included
This essay will seek to identify the contrasting elements of the
different definitions of social psychology, as well as comparing
overlapping features. A critical exploration of the findings will be
given in retrospect of the discussions given in both books one and
The three perspectives agree that autonomy exists but it is too what
extent does it exist that they have a major difference.
Experimentalists see an individuals behaviour as being affected by
structured and regulated social interactions sometimes referred to as
?laws?(McGhee, 2001, p.7). These external factors cause behaviour that
an individual didn?t randomly exhibit it, thus casting a shadow over
whether this is truly autonomous. Experimentalists have a fatalistic
way of explaining behaviour, everything we do happens for a reason,
and so is this out of our control is it destiny? Humanists concentrate
on informing people of their scope for autonomous action, by
increasing awareness of the factors that act upon us. By being aware
of what contributes to our behaviour people are more aware of the
areas in their worlds that are left for them to influence, and this is
where autonomy comes in. Critical social psychologists see autonomy as
a privilege. They are concerned with class, material possessions,
ethnicity, and social structure. Autonomy is seen as something you
posses if you are in a situation to do so. If you are at the bottom of
a social structure you will have to do what you can to survive, the
option of going to the best schools, and buying lavish goods, and
accessing the best health care will not be an option. So as a result
alot of choices will be taken from you.

The three perspectives differ greatly on this issue of methodology and
how psychology should be defined. Experimental psychology has its
foundations firmly in the belief that it is a science and scientific
approaches should be found for measuring, describing, and explaining
social psychology. Experimentalists want arguments to be objective,
and based on controlled empirical studies which produce quantitative
scientific data, which is open to statistical analysis. When
experiments produce results the findings are put to use often in
health care, for example to predict a person?s vulnerability to a
particular medical condition.

Humanistic psychology is a more subjective approach and uses real
life experiences from which to draw conclusions and sees itself as a
?moral science? (Stevens, 2002, p.9). The theories derived from
observation and interview techniques are applied to understanding the
meaning people attach to experiences and other people. As well as
using phenomenological analyses of lived experience. This is
qualitative research and gives subjective accounts of experience as

Critical social psychology comes from the approach of being a
?political science? rather than a natural or moral science (Wetherell,
2002, p.11). Critical social psychologists are completely unsupportive
of experiments and focuses on social structure and its effects on
people as well as relationships between groups and individuals and
importantly the study of relationships over a long period. It is not
solely concerned with these issues and looks outside of the
traditional psychological realm to politics and other social sciences
for answers. Research findings are used to examine societies view on
identity, stereotyping, community histories, and reference groups.

An important similarity between the perspectives is the consensus that
we are part of a social matrix which includes factors like history,
structure, material world, and gender. These factors produce an
equation which equals the society that we live in and which is subject
to change our behaviour and have effect on a person living in this
social world. What this means is that no matter what direction you?re
coming from before analysing any results you have from any type of
experiment or experiential analyses these variables need to be taken
into account. They cannot be controlled or worked round as they are
with us all the time and you become institutionalised into the social
world you are in.

Critical social psychology seems to have the most effective and
sensible way of studying social psychology. The use of observation to
study an element of social life within a whole context allow for
natural meaningful results to be generated. Compared with experiments
which seek to isolate one element from society and study it under
laboratory conditions. This is liable only to give artificial and
inconsistent results. Experimentalists claim that total objectivity is
not possible yet still try to achieve this by controlling extraneous
variables, giving the result of unnatural behaviour, which is then
used to build theories and prove a hypothesis. Where as methods used
in the humanistic approach are equally fallible. Collecting accounts
on lived experience from the horse?s mouth as it were are open to
fantasable exaggerations and total fabrication, over time people?s
recollection of events changes and blurs and moves far away from the
original account.

Qualitative evidence is produced allowing valuable descriptions and
theories to be developed which can be used to understand elements of
social life. Instead of quantitative results that stand up to
statistical scrutiny and support a hypotheses but do not give results
rooted in the actualities of being a person in a social world but in a

In practice for example in the case of Leonard described in Book one
(Sacks, 2002, p.5) critical social psychology would study his whole
being. A particular aspect of him maybe of interest for example his
view of identity, but this would not be isolated and removed from
gender, a sense of self or the institution in which he has no choice
but to live. Leonard?s situation would give a view of identity far
from that of others and this must be understood in the context of
Leonard as whole, or it means very little as single subject.

After an encounter with an individual for example Leonard a critical
social psychologist would want to gain knowledge about who has power
over Leonard and in what context. For most us somebody with power over
us could be a parental figure at a young age, a teacher, politicians,
or the police. In the case of Leonard far more people control him and
even his basic decisions such as what time he will wake up, when he
goes back to bed, meal times and what he eats. Most of us experience a
control figure such as a politician as distant and having an abstract
control, for Leonard the case is very different. As well as this issue
a critical social psychologist would be looking at relationships in
this situation, these are likely to be between Leonard, other
patients, doctors and nurses. Leonard would also provide an
opportunity to study identity and stereotypes in a setting that is
outside of a mainstream one.

In contrast an experimental psychologist would have approached Leonard
with a hypothesis and an experiment with which they will hope to prove
or disprove the hypothesis abjectly. This would involve isolating a
particular aspect of Leonard to give concise information. However the
results this would give would be far removed from anything a critical
or humanistic approach would provide, and of little use outside of a
laboratory. Equally the method likely to be put in place by a
humanistic psychologist of personal accounts would be extremely
subjective as Leonard is vulnerable to depression and mood swings and
the accounts you could get would vary day to day. The longevity that a
critical social psychology methodology values would give the most
valid result.

Critical social psychology is a more rigorous and in depth study of
people as social animals. It includes studies of communities histories
which is common sense if we expect to be able to explain what modern
day behaviour based on, this is particularly useful in explaining
interactions between different groups in a multi-cultural society and
where there maybe long running disputes. Longevity it is an advantage
of this perspective not only when looking at a community?s social
history, but when explaining the effects of relationships, and the
development of self. Seeing these features of a social life over time
can not be substituted by a laboratory based experiment. Which does
not give enough time to a subject to produce an objective valid result
that can be generalised.

In conclusion critical social psychology uses the most practical
methodologies if you want to gain reliable data. The data may not be
quantitative and so unable to be statistically analyses but this does
not mean that it doesn?t deserve to brecognised for what it can and
has achieved. The use of observation by a psychologist in a natural
not staged environment, who then analyse this data must be the most
rigorous and truthful way in which to gain information on the study of
social psychology. Using a wide focus and using knowledge from other
disciplines only strengthens its validity and integrity as a
perspective of psychology. When critical social psychology is compared
with other disciplines and analysed in depth it is evident that other
perspectives are too narrow minded in their approach to methodologies
and suitable subject areas for research.

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