‘There is a lot to be gained by studying a topic in psychology from more than one perspective.’ Discuss this claim drawing on chapters 2 and 3 from book 2 to illustrate your points.
There are many different perspectives in psychology that aim to study and understand a particular topic in relation to the constructs of that perspective. It has been claimed that there is a lot to be gained by studying a topic in psychology from more than one perspective. However, to what extent is this the case? Should researchers take a reductionist stance or should holism be advocated? Should it also be the case that researchers should rely on one research method or use method triangulation in order to investigate their subject matter? This paper will discuss the claim that there is a lot to be gained by studying a topic in psychology from more than one perspective by drawing on chapters 2 and 3 from the book to illustrate these points.
It certainly could be the case that there is a lot to gain from studying a topic in psychology from more than one perspective, as such a form of study is holistic in its approach and would result in a larger, more complete picture of the subject matter being produced. For example, evolutionary psychology would explain sex differences as resulting from our evolutionary past and the differences in our reproductive concerns, as men are concerned with producing a large amount of offspring whereas women can only produce a few (Hollway et. al., 2007). In contrast to this, social constructionism would explain differences in the behaviour of males and females as being due to reproduction of Western stereotypes and oppressive discourse, which is controlled by the hegemonic masculine culture representing men as sexually liberated and oppressing the sexual behaviour of women (Hollway et. al., 2007). Thus, it can be seen that both perspectives have very different viewpoints and explanations of sex differences in behaviour and individually both explanations can explain the subject matter. However, by gaining an understanding of both perspectives’ explanations of the topic, researchers can gain a more holistic and greater understanding of the topic, which can be used to a greater effect in society.
On the other hand, a holistic approach to studying a topic in psychology is not always the most appropriate means through which a subject should be studied, as this can be deemed as not scientific and overly complex. As such, there are still many researchers within psychology who advocate a reductionist approach to studying psychological phenomena and it may be an advantageous way to study a topic in psychology, as it would produce one single casual explanation for the subject matter. When studying language in humans it may be best to study it from a cognitive perspective, as such a perspective views language as a form of how knowledge is represented and the process through which it is communicated to others (Cooper & Kaye, 2007). A good example of reductionism and the cognitive perspective can be seen in the Connectionist Model (McClelland & Rumelhart, 1981, as cited by Cooper & Kaye, 2007, p.90) that explains visual word identification in terms of a bottom-up approach wherein the visual representation of the word activates or inhibits related areas or similar words in the brain to lead to identification of that word (Cooper & Kaye, 2007). In addition to this, discursive psychology can be seen as a reductionist approach, as it views language as a means through which reality and the world is constructed through discourse wherein the world and the self are constantly changed over time. Therefore, reductionism can be seen as a means by which complex topics in psychology can be reduced to a single simple explanation, however, such explanations may ignore other such factors as lack of experience of similar words in relation to the Connectionist Model or recurrent discourses over time in terms of discursive psychology. Thus, reductionist explanations may lack ecological validity but will be deemed more scientific. As such, there may be more to gain from a reductionist stance as it enables a single explanation to be produced but then again it may result in a lack of the whole picture. Perhaps, future research should aim to use reductionist perspectives in combination within one another to produce a holistic picture of the subject matter.
There are many different research methods within psychology, which can be used to investigate psychological phenomena and these are different between different perspectives. For example, biological psychology uses post mortem tissues dissections, fMRIs and MRIs in order to measure brain difference (Hollway et. al., 2007). This was seen in an fMRI study by Schneider et. al. (2000, as cited by Hollway et. al., 2007, p.140), who found that there are differences in the activity in the same brain regions between adult males and females. An advantage of using such methods to investigate sex and gender difference is that the results of such studies cannot be misinterpreted by the researcher or falsified by the participant. As such, the research methods in biological psychology are highly reliable and valid. What is more, such methods produce quantitative data that is deemed more scientific by psychological community. In contrast, in order to examine sexual attitudes and behaviours, evolutionary psychology uses several methods, such as, forms of media (Fielding, 1997, 2000, as cited by Hollway et. al., 2007, p.146) and experimentation and questionnaires (see Langhorne & Secord, 1995, as cited by Hollway et. al., 2007, p.149) for example. A strength of using method triangulation is that it can produce a more holistic understanding of the subject matter than one method can do, which may result in the findings of evolutionary psychology being more ecologically valid. However, a criticism of such an approach is that it may produce overcomplicated explanations of the subject matter compared to a reductionist approach like biological psychology would produce one single, simple explanation. Psychoanalysis also uses different methods to investigate sex and gender difference, as seen in the use of social observations and experimentation in clinical settings (Hollway et. al., 2007). An advantage of such methods is that they are conducted in naturalistic settings that are likely to increase the ecological validity of the findings and result in the findings being easily generalised to other situations, though they can suffer from a lack of external reliability. In addition to this, each different method produces different results (Cooper & Kaye, 2007; Hollway et. al., 2007). For example, the use of fMRI studies in biological psychology may find that sex differences is due to different levels of hormones in the brain whereas social observations used by psychoanalysis may find that sex differences are due to early childhood experiences and sexualisation of children. Hence, it can be seen that each perspective uses different methods of investigation to produce data on the subject matter and that each different method has its own merits and advantages. However, by using only one form of research method, researchers are limiting themselves to a particular stance and possibly a particular finding. Different methods may produce different results, which, if used in combination with each other, may produce a greater, more holistic understanding of the subject matter, such as, sex and gender differences. In this sense, method triangulation should be advocated as a compulsory form of data collection in order to ensure that we have a complete understanding of the subject under investigation.
On a similar note, different perspectives use different forms of analysis as well as different methods. For example, discursive psychology uses discourse analysis, and social constructionism may use phenomenological interpretive analysis, which are both qualitative forms of analysis (Cooper & Kaye, 2007; Hollway et. al., 2007). Such forms of analysis can produce a large amount of detailed data or results. In contrast, traditional/experimental social psychology uses quantitative, and evolutionary psychology may use a combination of both forms of analysis (Cooper & Kaye, 2007; Hollway et. al., 2007). Each form of analysis has its own merits and may produce different findings for the same topic. What is more, using a selection of different forms of analysis will enable the researcher to test the reliability of each analysis and thus is an excellent way to ensure that the research is valid and reliable. Therefore, it can be said that by studying a topic of psychology from more than one perspective is an excellent means through which to gain more information about that particular topic, as the different forms of analysis used by these different perspectives can produce a greater understanding of the subject matter than one perspective and one form of analysis could.
In conclusion, there is a lot to be gained by studying a topic in psychology from more than one perspective, as such an activity can produce a holistic understanding of the subject matter, which will enable researchers and the general public to have a more complete understanding of particular psychological phenomena. This form of research allows us to take in account the inherent problems with each perspective, and remove such erroneous factors from our understanding. However, it is also the case that reductionism is a useful means of scientifically investigate a topic in psychology in its simplest forms, producing a simple explanation of complex subject material. In this sense, each individual perspective is reductionist in its approach to studying topics in psychology and as such, it should be the case that each perspective is looked at in conjunction with other perspectives from a holistic viewpoint in order to gain a more complete and valid picture of the subject matter.
Cooper, T. & Kaye, H. (2007). Language and meaning. In, T. Cooper. & I. Roth. (Eds). Mapping Psychology. (2nd Edition). Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Hollway, W., Cooper, T., Johnson, A. & Stevens, R. (2007). The psychology of sex and gender. In, T. Cooper. & I. Roth. (Eds). Mapping Psychology. (2nd Edition). Milton Keynes: The Open University.