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AS and A Level: Social Psychology

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Five reasons why social psychology methodology is often contentious

  1. 1 Researcher bias e.g. Zimbardo (1973) was guilty of playing a dual role in his Stanford Prison Experiment – as both prison superintendent and researcher. His resulting lack of objectivity meant he did not stop the experiment quickly enough to prevent particpants from being harmed.
  2. 2 Participant reactivity (hawthorne effect) – Just the act of being observed can change people’s behaviour. Some even consciously act up for the researcher – as was the case with the most vindictive guard in Zimbardo’s study.
  3. 3 Lack of experimental realism e.g. Milgram and Hoffling’s experiments on obedience were both criticised on the grounds that participants wouldn’t believe the set up. However, both researchers disputed this on the basis of their debrief interviews with participants.
  4. 4 Lack of mundane realism – Separate to experimental realism, mundane realism refers to how far the set-up can be generalised to real life social situations. It was argued that Asch’s conformity study lacked mundane realism, for example.
  5. 5 Lack of cross-cultural validity – Social behaviour is largely culturally determined. For example, Smith and Bond (1993) carried out a meta-analysis of conformity studies based on Asch’s procedure and concluded that individualist cultures had lower levels of conformity than collectivist cultures.

Five modern ethical principles in psychology (that we should thank Milgram and Zimbardo for influencing)

  1. 1 Lack of informed consent – must always be obtained, but it is often the case that it would invalidate social psychological research. Some researchers debrief and offer the right to withdraw data to deal with this but there are always questions about whether it is acceptable.
  2. 2 Deception – should be avoided, but if necessary should involve cost benefit analysis – i.e. it is minor deception which will be addressed in a debrief, and it will not cause any harm. If there is deception, there is automatically a lack of informed consent.
  3. 3 Protection from harm – participants should not be exposed to any greater physical or psychological harm than they would be in day to day life.
  4. 4 Privacy and confidentiality – should both be respected. Observations should not take place in a private place without consent. Research should not identify participants, especially if it is of a socially sensitive nature.
  5. 5 Right to withdraw – should always be offered at the start of the study, either to end participation during the procedure or to withdraw data afterwards. This is particularly important in cases of deception.

Five good examples of social influence to use in essays

  1. 1 England riots in 2011 – Conformity, social influence & deindividuation. Conformity: people who wouldn’t normally indulge in anti-social behaviour succumbed to peer pressure. Social learning: some joined in as a result of vicarious reinforcement as they saw those ahead of them get away with their loot. Most importantly, deindividuation: as the rule of law broke down, many of those involved believed that they wouldn’t be identified and punished for their actions, and most of the looting was done under cover of darkness amongst the chaos of burning buildings.
  2. 2 MPs expenses scandal – Conformity and, to an extent, obedience. Conformity: plenty of MPs indulged in fiddling their expenses because others around them were doing it and it seemed ‘perfectly normal’. Obedience, (possibly!) because some of them claimed that they were encouraged to make the most of their expense claims by the Commons Fees office.
  3. 3 Feminism since the Suffragette movement – Successful minority influence, including social crypto-amnesia/ dissociation effect, snowball effect. The suffragettes fulfilled all the characteristics of a successful minority group. Feminism has made massive gains for women’s equality – although the fight has not yet been won in practice. Feminism has fallen out of fashion recently, yet the majority would say they believe in gender equality, showing that the idea has become dissociated from the people who originally fought for it.
  4. 4 The gay civil rights movement in the UK – Successful minority influence. Evidence includes the relatively recent acceptance by government and wider society of Pride celebrations, equality legislation, including civil partnerships, repeal of Section 28 and equal age of consent with heterosexuals.
  5. 5 The ‘Green’ movement in the UK – Successful minority influence, snowball effect, dissociation effect, conformity. No longer is there an association between concern for the environment and ‘tree-hugging’. Environmental sustainability is becoming a mainstream concern and social disapproval tends to centre on people failing to recycling, on driving large, gas-guzzling vehicles, and the environmentally unsound activities of big business. Big companies now indulge in ‘greenwash’: environmentally focused PR campaigns.

  1. Discuss the relationship between sexual selection and human reproductive behaviour

    These strategies of both inter-sexual reproduction and intra-sexual reproduction are all in order to enhance reproductive success which is defined as the ability and number of your offspring that are able survive and reproduce themselves. According to evolutionary psychologists this process of sexual selection and desire of reproductive success has led to characteristics of reproductive behaviour seen today. For example, due to sexual selection and the desire to reproduce successfully men are more promiscuous as they strive to successfully pass on their genes.

    • Word count: 736
  2. Evolutionary Explanations of Group Display Aggression

    Supporting research by Podalri and Balestri found that racism was seen particularly openly and strongly among football crowds. Xenophobia increased the cultural identity of supporters by highlighting the differences between Northern and Southern Italians. Foldesi?s research supports the concept of xenophobia. Foldesi (1996) found that violent displays among a small core of Hungarian football crowds led to an increase in violent and racist outbursts by spectators. However, conflicting research by Marsh suggests football violence may not be an act of naturally selected xenophobia, but more an organised behaviour to gain peer acceptance within the group.

    • Word count: 831
  3. Discuss Explanations of Institutional Aggression

    Further support was conducted by Paterline et al who argued that prisoner?s aggression is the product of stressful environments of the institution rather than the individual. Zimbardo termed this the ?Lucifer Effect? which refers to the power of the situation to make ordinary people act in aggressive ways. The situation may result in an increase in aggression through a change of power and status of those in the institute, feelings of helplessness in the victims of violence and deindividuation of both parties.

    • Word count: 810
  4. Discuss two or more social psychological theories of aggression

    However, only those who saw aggressive behaviour being rewarded then repeated the behaviour which suggests that reinforcement and positive mental representations are necessary for an observed behaviour to be re-enacted. Despite showing clear evidence for SLT, there were many methodological issues with Bandura?s research which in turn reduce the internal validity of findings. One main issue is the experiment was conducted in a lab environment. Therefore, behaviour may not be the same as it would in a natural setting thus is subjective to ecological validity reducing mundane realism which means it?s difficult to generalise the findings outside the lab setting.

    • Word count: 806
  5. Discuss the extent to which relationships have been shown to differ in cultures (24 marks)

    These differences are supported by Takano, who studies how change is perceive in different cultures. Americans value change which explains the high divorce rates. Similar, Simmel also found that individualistic cultures are associated with high divorce rates because they are encourage to find the perfect partner. Takano explained that Japanese divorce rates were much lower as they favour stability and continuity. However, Takano?s study only focusses on 2 cultures so generalising to others is difficult and lacks ecological validity. Another explanation for low divorce rates is due to perception of separation.

    • Word count: 695
  6. Discuss the research into breakdown of relationships (24 marks)

    In this stage each partner prepares for new relationships by learning from the mistakes of the prior relationship. The amended model offers a more realistic view of how these processes develop in real life. The resurrection phase is the new model emphasis the potential of personal growth, whereas traditional models focus of the distress. The model also suffers from gender bias. The personal growth associated with resurrection is gender specific. Women tend to benefit more from this which might be down to the greater social support available to them and tend to grow more in the resurrection stage then men.

    • Word count: 750
  7. Outline and evaluate the Influence of childhood for adult relationships (24 Marks)

    It is said that these attachment styles will determine how well an individual can make and maintain relationships. Simpson et al provides support for the importance of early attachment for adult relationships. They found that babies who were securely attached were rated as having higher levels of social competence, closer to friends and likely to express their feelings to their romantic partners. Proving that early experiences shape later ones. Alike, a study by Hazan and Shaver investigated the link between attachment styles and later adult relationships and provides support for the continuity hypothesis. They found that secure babies went on to find love easily and trust in a relationship.

    • Word count: 728
  8. Outline and evaluate theories on the maintenance of romantic relationships (24 Marks)

    is how people weigh the profitability of their current relationship with that of potential future relationships. If other possibilities compare favourably, we may be less pleased with our own relationship. According to SET relationship is likely to breakdown when the costs involved outweigh the rewards. If the costs do not outweigh the rewards, it should be maintained. Research has demonstrated the importance of comparison levels in relationships. Simpson et al. found that participants in existing relationships rated people the opposite gender as less attractive than participants not in relationships. This suggests that people judge prospects of new alternative relationships as less profitable if they are already in a committed relationship.

    • Word count: 937
  9. Describe and evaluate the explanations of conformity. (12 marks)

    ISI is a cognitive process. An example of ISI is when in class, a person may not know the answer to a question so if most of the class agree on an answer, and they deem this as correct. Normative social influence (NSI) focuses on the normal behaviour for a social group. These norms regulate the behaviour of groups and individuals, as people prefer to gain social acceptance and approval rather than be rejected. This process is more emotional than cognitive.

    • Word count: 508
  10. Discuss Theories of Parental Investment in Relationships

    Male investment is less than females because males are always at risk of cuckoldry (investing resources in another man?s child) whereas females are always certain the child is theirs. Therefore the males invest less in the child, to reduce the risk of cuckoldry. Sexual jealousy, therefore, may have evolved as a solution to these problems. Men are more jealous of the sexual act (to avoid cuckoldry) while women are more jealous of the shift in emotional focus (and consequent loss of resources).

    • Word count: 660
  11. Discuss Ducks' Model of Breakdown in Relationships

    During this stage, rebuilding of self-esteem for future relationships occurs. Tashiro et al found evidence that supports Ducks model. They surveyed students whose relationships had recently broken down. They reported to have experienced emotional distress as well as personal growth, stating that these breakdowns had given them a clearer idea about future relationships. This provides evidence for both the grave-dressing. Boekhout et al also provides supporting research for how lack of skills or stimulation can lead to a breakdown. They studied extramarital affairs and found that the reasons for these affairs to occur was because they believed their relationship had lack of stimulation or lack of skills.

    • Word count: 840
  12. Explain Deindividuation Explanations for Aggression

    Concluding that the higher deindividuation the higher aggression. Supporting research was completed by Diener. They conducted research into trick or treaters in the US. They found that when children were in large groups and wearing costumes that meant they could not be identifiable, were more likely to perform antisocial actions like stealing money or sweets. The group reduces the possibility of identification which means that behaviour may deviate the moral standards. In similar findings, Silke analysed violent attacks. Just under half of the violent attacks were conducted when the perpetrator faces were concealed.

    • Word count: 810
  13. Outline and evaluate sex differences in parental investment

    This is made more difficult in more promiscuous mating arrangements where there is a risk of cuckoldry, as they cannot be certain of the fidelity they try to ensure that care is not misdirected towards non relatives. A man whose mate is unfaithful risks offspring not his own, a woman whose mate was unfaithful risks a diversion of resources. Buss suggested that sexual jealousy may have evolved as a solution to this problem. Men are more jealous of the sexual act itself, while women are jealous of the shift in emotional focus and the loss of resources and investment into another woman.

    • Word count: 852

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