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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.

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  1. Describe and discuss social facilitation theory. Refer to empirical evidence in your answer.

    The average time taken was lower when they completed the task alongside another. The studies shows that the performance has improve in the presence of others. Facilitation of dominant responses is the tendency for the most likely responses to be produced more frequently when in the presence of others. Michaels et al tested the prediction that the presence of an audience would facilitate the performance of a well-learned behaviour and inhibits the performance of poorly practice ones. Pool player were observed from a distance in a college student union either average or below average.

    • Word count: 736
  2. Outline and evaluate two explanations for group display

    Lynch mobs are a group of people, without legal authority, kill a person for some assumed offence. History tells us that there were 2000 victims of lynch mobs killed in 10 US states in the years 1882 and 1930. The vast majority of victims were African-American males. Among the evolutionary explanations offered for behaviour in lynch mobs i have chosen to focus on the power threat hypothesis, and dehumanizing of the victim.

    • Word count: 337
  3. Outline and evaluate at least two theories of aggression

    In order to demonstrate the importance of modelling in aggressive behaviour Bandura et al carried out a series of experiments involving children exposed to aggressive behaviour of an adult model towards a doll. His study of the 'Bobo doll' was to investigate aggressive behaviour through direct and vicarious behaviour. The procedure of the experiment was done by dividing 66 children in 3 groups with 3 different conditions: Condition 1- aggressive model was neither rewarded or punished Condition 2- aggressive model was rewarded by second adult Condition 3- aggressive model was punished by a second adult After watching the film, each child was watched playing with the doll.

    • Word count: 697
  4. Altruism in humans

    Batson et al (1981) Aim: To test the empathy - altruism hypothesis by trying to distinguish empathy from personal distress. Procedures: 1. Female participants watched a woman called Elaine (confederate on CCTV as she perceived electric shocks during a learning experiment. Elaine pretended to show increasing personal distress and stated that as a child she had been hurt by an electric fence and hence was particularly distressed by the procedures. 2. It was assumed at this point that all the watching participants would be feeling personal distress watching Elaine.

    • Word count: 929
  5. Cultural differences in adolescent behaviour

    Collectivist cultures wit h clear rites of passage often do not have a clearly identifiable period of adolescence. Mead (1998) reports that the transition from childhood to adulthood can be swift and is usually marked by a ritual that provides guidance on the adult role identity. This suggests that adolescence is a cultural construction that results from individualistic cultures' educational and career structure. This provides young person with so many options and freedom of choice that crisis often occurs. In the collectivist culture the young person is more acquiescent to parental guidance that often involves 'following the fathers footsteps' and is seen as a natural progression.

    • Word count: 848
  6. Relationships in adolescence

    Conflict: Barber (1974) found that parents and adolescents argue over school work, chores, social life and friends, personal hygiene, disobedience; avoid issues like s*x, drug, religion and politics. Smetana (1988) found that adolescents feel that certain areas of their lives should be under their own control sleeping in late, watching TV, hairstyles, clothing and friendships. Dishon et al (1991) found that conflicts with parents are most likely if they feel their child has become involved with the 'wrong crowd' (a deviant peer group).

    • Word count: 915
  7. Minority Group Influence

    Hollander (1958) argues to support this. He said that prior conformity enhances status which allows greater influence and nonconformity. Result of experiments carried out found that nonconformity which accompanies a task contribution often enhances the influence of an external- status equal, but can have liabilities for members with low external- status.

    • Word count: 425
  8. a) Outline two explanations of aggression - 12 marks

    He proposed that deindividuation is associated with increased anonymity, diminished fear of retribution and a diluted sense of guilt. A person may become more anonymous if they are wearing a uniform, or not able to be identified. If someone feels they will not be caught or punished for what they have done, this will give them a diminished fear of retribution. People are less likely to carry out an act if they will feel guilty about doing so. Identifiability, guilt and retribution normally act as controls on our behaviour, to stop us from performing anti-social acts. When they are removed, a person becomes deindividuated and this leads to anti-social acts such as aggression.

    • Word count: 650
  9. The effects of environmental stressors on aggressive behaviour?

    Imagine the journey is still long to go and the train is packed with people close together. There is loud music playing people laughing loud next to your ears. There is no way out for you. This is exactly the point this theory is making. At times such as this aggressive behaviour is displayed but when a slight possibility of escape is possible then both escape and aggressive behaviour are displayed. Anderson 1987 Anderson examined aggression related to the hotness.........over the years. He reviewed violent and non-violent crimes in the USA between 1971 and 1980, related to the season and year.

    • Word count: 783
  10. Outline and evaluate one or more explanation of bystander behaviour (24 marks)

    then they will not give help. Social inhibitors also affect the answers to these stages. For example, diffusion of responsibility is likely to occur in a crowd, therefore bystanders are less likely to take personal responsibility. A supporting piece of research is the smoke-filled room study, by Latane and Darley. They found that when participants were alone in a room that began to fill with smoke 75% had gone for help by six minutes, 50% by four minutes, however, when there were three participants together, this dropped to 38%.

    • Word count: 481
  11. Animal Rights or Science

    In addition to this justifiable research must increase understanding of the species studied and provide results that will benefit the health of humans and other people. In addition to justification another topic addressed in the guidelines relate to the care and welfare of the animal. Because the psychological wellbeing of an animal we questionable the APA has worked collaboratively with the USDA to mandate certain guidelines. These include: the facilities housing the animal during its study period must be in acceptable conditions, as described by the USDA.

    • Word count: 780
  12. Is Milgrams study on obedience more or less ethical than Hoflings?

    In order to conduct the experiment therefore, he deceived them into thinking the he was exploring the effects of punishment upon learning. This conflicts with current ethical guidelines, as he did not have true consent from the participants. In Hofling's experiment, nurses in a hospital were asked over the phone by a bogus doctor to administer an overdose of a drug without obtaining authorisation. The nurse participants did not have an opportunity to give informed consent. In my opinion, this form of deceit was worse than Milgrams as they weren't even aware they were involved in the experiment, so they certainly ha d not given consent.

    • Word count: 731
  13. Discuss Gender Bias in Psychological Theories

    By representing women in this way, Freud was changing the treatment of women as second-class citizens in Victorian society. Feminist critics (i.e. Horney - womb envy) claimed that Freud was simply reflecting sexism of his time and therefore building cultural sexism into his theory. Another alpha biased theory is Kohlberg's theory of moral development.

    • Word count: 453
  14. Outline and evaluate one or more institutional expnations of agression

    Furthermore, Irwin and Cressey recognised the importance of subcultures in prison, identifying repeat offenders as members of subcultures such as 'The Convict subculture' who are more likely to be aggressive, whereas one time offenders ('The Straight subculture') are less likely to be aggressive. Again, this supports the theory that it is the prisoners themselves that choose to be aggressive or not, therefore the Important Model supports free will as opposed to determinism. The model has been criticised for having little practical use; meaning that it does not shed much light into possible solutions to the institutional aggression problem.

    • Word count: 639
  15. Outline and evalutate one or more psychological theories of aggression

    and verbally. In the non-aggressive condition the adult ignored the bobo doll. Bandura found that the children in the aggressive condition were significantly more aggressive when compared to the other two conditions. 70% of those children in the other conditions showed no signs of aggressive at all. Bandura concluded that the observation of other's behaviours leads to imitative learning. However, this study does have limitations; the children's aggressiveness was only limited to a bobo doll, meaning that this was not real aggression. Adding to this, the experiment lacks ecological validity because real life is rarely as clear-cut as this, therefore it is difficult to generalise these findings.

    • Word count: 563
  16. Humanistic Approach to Media

    When asked why he fell from the tightrope, he said that he didn't know how but "could learn" - this epitomises the stage he needs to entertain and will thus do things such as burning his hair to entertain. This isn't a cry for attention but some realises their unique potential and is acting toward it. With Raab, there is a development - he has satisfied the needs of one stage and gone 'up' the hierarchy. His background is that of a lack of love - Bam's parents were more like parents to him.

    • Word count: 637
  17. Critically consider the extent to which relationships have been shown to be different in Western and non-Western cultures

    Collectivist societies emphasise the importance of working together to achieve things. A lot of research has been done into cultural differences in relationships. Levine et al (1995) looked at the necessity of romantic love in different cultures in marriages. They conducted the research in 11 different countries, including Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, England and the USA. They found a positive correlation between how individualistic a society is and perceived necessity of love in a marriage. This means that members in individualistic societies perceived love as more important in a marriage than those in collectivist societies.

    • Word count: 811
  18. Describe and evaluate psychological research into the dissolution (breakdown) of relationships

    This shows that it can explain why some relationships do break down. Another strength is that it shows how these three variables can link together to reduce marital quality. However, it can be criticised as it places too much emphasis on marital quality and satisfaction leading to a break-up. Levinger argued that there are other factors that also affect whether a couple break up or not. An example of this is divorce - people may not want to go through the hassle. Duck (1988) proposed a four-phase model, which explains what happens during the termination of close or intimate relationships.

    • Word count: 814
  19. Explain using evidence from studies why some relationships seem to prosper while others fail. How useful is the research that focuses on this issue?

    The third stage is continuation where their routines start to fit in together and they meet friends and family. After this, deterioration may happen where the relationship breaks down due to an imbalance of costs and rewards. The ending stage is last. Levinger's stage theory is good because it explains what happens during a relationship and when each stage occurs. It also emphasises that relationships change in predictable ways over time. However, it does not take into account individual differences, as not all relationships follow go through the same stages in the same order. For example, Brehm found that there are large differences among couples.

    • Word count: 811
  20. To what extent do research studies support the view that disruption of attachment bonds has long lasting effects on the individual?

    He conducted a study that he said proved his hypothesis. The participants were delinquent thieves, of which 32% had 'affectionless psychopathology', a disorder where there is a lack of guilt and remorse. 86% of these had experienced maternal deprivation before the age of 5. This suggests that the damage is permanent and long lasting, as they are still suffering from something that happened before the age of 5. However, there are many criticisms of this study, for example there is a limited sample group as the participants were all juvenile thieves.

    • Word count: 807
  21. Outline and evaluate two social psychological theories of aggression

    Bandura stated that people learn the form, frequency and suitable targets for aggression through social modelling or observational learning. Disinhibition is one explanation for why people learn through observational learning. This is when you see someone behaving aggressively and it reduces your inhibitions about behaving like that and you then imitate them. Bandura also suggested that those with low self-esteem and those who are highly dependent on others were more likely to imitate other's aggressive behaviours, especially those who they admire, or who are similar to themselves, e.g.

    • Word count: 917
  22. Discuss and evaluate psychological explanations of love

    It also only focuses on love at first sight; however, people say they fall in love gradually. This theory doesn't explain this and so the three components cannot be generalised to all types of love. Dutton and Aron (1974) conducted an experiment that supports the three-factor of love theory. Participants were interviewed about scenic attractions whilst at a park. An attractive woman interviewed the participants; half of which were on a high suspension bridge and half of which were on a low bridge. Dutton and Aron predicted that the men on the high suspension bridge would be in a state of high physiological arousal and so might think they were s******y aroused, whereas those on the low bridge were less likely to feel s****l attraction due to low physiological arousal.

    • Word count: 963
  23. Discuss research into psychological explanations of love

    This led to his second approach; from an early age we construct ideas of what love is through TV, films, books etc. Sternberg conducted a study on students and found 25 common love stories, for example, the gardening story and the fairytale story. Fehr supported this study, as opposed to distributing questionnaires, she asked participants to describe in their own words what love was, and then analysed the responses and categorized them. Arron and Westbay reinforced this study as it was found that the categories provided by Fehr were very similar to Sternberg's categories.

    • Word count: 739
  24. Discuss research into 'understudied relationships', such as gay and lesbian relationships, and mediated (e.g. Internet and txt) relationships

    Such attraction may lead to the formation of a relationship. This is likely to differ, as with heterosexual relationships the needs of a man and a woman are likely to be different, whereas if two people of the same gender form a relationship, the needs are likely to be similar. This may lead to problems in initiating activity, or may cause competition, a viewpoint supported by Kitzunger & Coyle, who found that in the formation of lesbian relationships, it was necessary for one partner to be more assertive than the other in order for dates, intimacy, etc., to be initiated.

    • Word count: 820

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