Strengths and Weaknesses of Idiographic Approach

Published: 2021-08-08 22:50:08
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Category: Experiment, Personality

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This essay discusses the major strengths and weaknesses of nomothetic and idiographic approaches to personality with the help of associated theories. Personality is defined as the psycho-physcial traits and mechanisms within an individual, influencing their interactions and adaptability to the ‘environment’. Nomothetic and idiographic approaches are two different methods used to provide an insight into and determine the personalities of people.
While both approaches are meant to further ones understanding of personality in different situations, there are significant differences as well as advantages and disadvantages for, in addition to, each method as this essay will highlight. Falk (1956) defines the nomothetic approach as a method to illuminate the laws and principles that define behaviors of a populace by interpreting general patterns which emerge, and the idiographic approach as an in-depth exploration of a subject where the understanding achieved is unique and personalized to the individual.
The nomothetic approach takes on the ‘history repeats itself’ attitude as expressed by Skinner’s radical behaviorism theory divulged by his experiments on rats, pigeons etc. (Smith and Woodward, 1996). The nomothetic approach’s greatest strength lies in its ability to distinguish certain trait behaviors of a population or community. This is efficent in determining an effective solution for individuals with identical behavior patterns based on the trait theory of personality.



Cattell’s (1946) 16PF trait theories, large scale studies recorded as a score on a dimension is an example of nomothetic investigation of human personality by which an individual’s personality is able to be described and generalized, as well as group behavior of same scoring individuals predicted. Research such as Milgram’s experiment and the I. Q. test suggest nomothetic notions hold true for certain behavioral principals and can be used to a certain extent to generalize groups of people. The ‘Big 5’ theory in collaboration with nomothetic data is considered satisfactory to illustrate the features of personality.
This method relies heavily on trait theories of personality to predict and establish behavioral personalities for a populace. On the other hand classification of a particular populace may not hold true for a particular individual due to specific individual traits and experiences suggests Gordon Allport (Nicholson, 2000). He stated that standardized testing would not be able to examine a greater part of an individual’s personality traits thus it required focused and customized study and observation.
While the nomothetic approach is relatively accurate to determine personality of general communities, it is shown to only propose surface principle behavior, not an accurate personality detail of a person. Moreover a bulky sample has to be chosen accurately to determine emerging patterns of behavior; classification might not be precise for all the people in that particular generalization. Another evident disadvantage is the classification of a person or people based on their result such as I. Q. which is show in certain situations to create bias among the society they are in.
The idiographic approach is highly focused on an individual under investigation and is mostly qualitative based as opposed to the quantitative nomothetic way. It is largely based on Freud’s theories of consciousness, that each person has an I,D. , ego and super ego and that it is unique to that particular individual. The study is comprehensive and long term, highlighting a complete understanding of the subject such as Freud’s explicit and long term clinical studies of his patients, catering to their specific needs and issues rather than a general assumption of their base persona (Gay, 1988).
It is shown to be a more flexible and detailed study to gain valid knowledge about the subjects being studied; Piaget was also able to unambiguously determine his children’s behavioral patterns and psyches (Auger and Rich, 2007). Idiographic approaches focus on the understanding of the structure of the mental i. e. the conscious, the unconscious and the preconscious such as George Kelly’s repertory grid technique in addition to Carl Rogers’ Q-sort procedure (Mcleod, 2007). Data gathered from idiographic research allows the creation of unique and effective treatments.
The key advantage of this method is the treatment offered after research will be efficient as it has been tailored to suit the particular individuals problem. On the other hand the results derived from idiographic approaches are highly specific and cannot be generalized; they’re based on a limited sample of the population along with unreliable experimentation which makes the data gathered useless to define general characteristics of a group. The information analyzed is unique to the particular individual being studied and does not hold true globally in which case it is considered unscientific by psychologists.
In conclusion, while nomothetic and idiographic approaches to personality each have their advantages and disadvantages, it is evident that the type of method used would be based on what the researcher is trying to record. To distinguish a general law of similar characteristic personalities a large, accurate sample from a populace would need to be nomotheticly studied with correlation factors as well as psychometric testing and other forms of quantitative research to drawn upon a fairly conclusive theory.
While precise study of an individual, would use the informal, idiographic method to derive an acute understanding of their personality. The nomothetic approach to personality is mainly supported by the trait theories of personality and idiographic approaches to personality are backed up by psychodynamic theories of personality. The main advantages these methods have is they are predominant in their own introspective fields of research while their main downfall poses as long as they remain standalone theories.

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