Why do different approaches in social psychology use different methods to study social phenomena?

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Why do different approaches in social psychology use different methods to study social phenomena?

Allport, 1935, (Hogg et al., 2005, pp.4) has defined social psychology as ‘the scientific investigation of how the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others’. Many believe that all social psychology is experimental social psychology, however social psychology is split into two: the experimental and the constructionist. The experimental approach is often referred to as the nomothetic tradition, as it aims to develop general laws of social psychology. In contrast the social constructionist approach grows out of the hermeneutic tradition, where it seeks the meanings of behaviour, and seeks to interpret the significance of action in relation to the contexts of behaviour. Social psychology therefore employs numerous methods of scientific investigation, depending on the approach to study social phenomena. The choice of an appropriate method is determined by a range of factors to do with the nature of the hypothesis under investigation, and resources available for doing the research (e.g. time, money, participants) and the ethics of the method.  

A popular method to studying social phenomena is the experimental approach, as it allows the experimenter to make casual interferences. It answers casual questions, for example ‘is variable X a cause of variable Y?’ (Aronson et al., 2005, pp.31) However, McGhee (2001, pp.120) claims that experimental social psychology assumes that social behaviour is objectively measurable, is caused by identifiable factors and that general principles or laws can be specified which describe the link between these factors and the social behaviour in question. Experimentation is a powerful method to study social phenomena because it allows us to identify the causes of events and thus gain control. It involves intervention in the form of manipulation of one or more independent variables and then measurement of the effect of the manipulation on one or more focal dependent variable. (Hogg et al., 2005, pp.9)  The independent variable is the variable the researcher changes or varies to see if it has an effect on another variable. The dependent variable is the variable the researcher measures to see if it is influenced by the independent variable. The researcher hypothesises that the dependent variable will depend on the level of the independent variable. McGhee (2001, pp. 121) identifies several assumptions to the experimental approach: reductionism, determinism and individualism. Reductionism is where to make sense of a phenomenon we consider its component parts and the underlying structure or processes to which it’s related. Such as the thought processes, motivations and personality disposition, which produce and maintain the social behaviour observed. McGhee (2005, pp.262) claims that the advantage of reductionism is that large complex chunks can be broken down into manageable chunks. The disadvantage is that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts and that recognition of the contexts and broader functions can be lost. Determinism is the assumption that all events are directly caused by preceding events and are therefore in principle predictable from them. Individualism refers to the assumption that the most appropriate means of analysing human behaviour is to consider it as produced, experienced and regulated by individuals rather than couples, groups, communities or societies.  

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Another method used to study social phenomena is the observational method. This is useful method if the goal is to describe social behaviour, as it’s a technique whereby a researcher observes people and systematically records measurements or impressions of their behaviour. For example, a typical question is ‘what is the nature of the phenomena?’ Observational methods can take many forms depending on what they are looking for, how involved or detached they are from the people they are observing and how they wish to quantify what they observe. One form of observational methods is ethnography. This is the ...

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