ID and Social Approach Strengths
and Weaknesses Additional
Individual Diffrences
Aims to look at the
motivations behind behaviour
(what causes people to
behave the way they do).
E.g. in Griffiths, the ‘thinking aloud’ aimed to see their irrational reasoning, showing how different types of
gambler use different heuristics.
In T&C they used interviews with Eve and her family to find out about her past and were able to establish a
cause for her MPD.
These examples show how looking at people as individuals may best show how individual cognitions and
experiences can lead to abnormal behaviour later in life.
Can be useful in improving
the experiences of people with
mental health problems – e.g.
Thigpen and Cleckley,
Rosenhan and Griffiths
Rosenhan’s findings contributed to improvements in patient care and an awareness of the pitfalls of using
diagnostic criteria, highlighting the need to treat people as individuals. T&C aimed to help Eve and though
they did not cure her, did improve some of her symptoms e.g. headaches and blackouts, showing the
importance of understanding the unique situation of sufferers and how taking an individual differences
approach can benefit patients.
High in Ecological Validity –
e.g. Rosenhan, Griffiths
Rosenhan’s study took place in real hospitals with no demand characteristics. Griffiths took place in a real life
arcade, with money to play for. This supports the approach as it shows that Individual Differences in thoughts
and behaviour exist in the real world.
We can use objective
psychometric tests to show the
difference between normal
and abnormal, and to
measure differences between
Thigpen and Cleckley used IQ and memory tests to see if there was an objective difference between each of
Eve’s personalities. This lends an element of reliability and objectivity to the ID approach. (more of a
supplementary point e.g. if you have 2 strengths already and want to add another)
As people are all unique the
only way we can look at
them is to see them as an
individual (the idiographic
For example MPD is a rare and idiosyncratic disorder – no two people will have it in the same way. Griffiths
showed that different people use different heuristics and that the wrong use of these can lead to problems
with rationalisation, outlining the contribution of individual differences.
Rosenhan showed that using a set of criteria to diagnose mental illness may not be the most valid way to
measure the experience of mentally ill people and that they should be treated as individuals.
Both of these examples show how treating people and patients as individuals can improve their well being
and reduce suffering.
Ignores the influence of the
situation affecting behaviour
E.g. it ignores the influence of culture as MPD is far more prevalent in
the USA, suggesting that there is something about the society in which
you live that influences your behaviour/thinking. This suggests that there
may be more to behaviour than individual differences.
Small samples/case studies
leads to problems with
generalisability –
Eve White was a unique case and cannot, therefore, be generalised
beyond her experience of the disorder.
Griffiths study had a relatively small sample and therefore it may not be
reflective of all regular gamblers. The nature of the ID approach requires
in depth and often small samples, this limits its usefulness as it cannot be
applied groups of people.
Lacking in control over the
Rosenhan’s study took place in a natural environment (field study) so
there was no way of controlling extraneous variables. Eve White had a
naturally occurring disorder and again, they could not manipulate the
variables. Griffiths too had a naturally occurring IV (though this is an
ethical strength) This means that we cannot be certain the individual
differences are the only cause of the behaviour.
This types of research can
create labels as it separates
normal from abnormal
Rosenhan’s study showed the effects of labelling and perhaps the
research into ID that says some people are ‘different’ could lead to
negative consequences for the individual. If we are ‘lumping together’
people into ‘sane’ and ‘insane’ then we are no longer looking at them as
Demonstrates the extent to which situational
factors affect behaviour
Milgram showed the power of authority and the setting in which people are acting.
Yale is a prestigious university therefore participants trusted the experimenter and the
situation implied a professionalism and competency. This shows how the situation can
exert an influence over individuals’ behaviour.
Demonstrates the power of interpersonal
factors and group membership
Reicher and Haslam – showed how identification with a group can have an effect on
behaviour e.g. the prisoners became more tyrannical e.g. trying to overthrow the
guards. This shows the influence of groups on behaviour.
RH – an example of interpersonal influence on behaviour was when they introduced
the Trade Unionist – this demonstrated how one person could change the group
Field studies have high ecological validity
Piliavin’s experiment was conducted on a subway train so Ps are not aware they are in
an experiment. No demand characteristics. They experimenters found that under
certain conditions people were more likely to help. This demonstrated how there is an
effect of others/the environment in real life settings.
Investigates issues which are highly relevant to
society and may explain unexplained
phenomena or events
Milgram’s study can help to explain atrocities such as the My Lai massacre, as he
found that people were obedient to authority and would undergo an agentic shift.
This demonstrates how in certain situations the influence of others and the
environment may lead to atrocities.
Piliavin & Kitty Genovese… Piliavin’s findings about bystander behaviour may help to
explain why people may not help in an emergency, for example in the case of Kitty
Genovese. This shows how the social approach can help us to understand everyday or
even unusual behaviour.
Weaknesses of Social Approach Evidence
Research can often be
Milgram causing some Ps to have a nervous breakdown and they
leave the experiment realising that they are capable of killing
somebody – this shows that how, sometimes in order to understand
group behaviour unethical conduct is required.
Laboratory studies can have
Milgram’s obedience may not generalise to the real world as his
study was conducted in a lab, a far cry from the traumatic and very
low ecological validity
real situation of war
R&H - prisons are not something you go to voluntarily and generally
there will be little control in real life over group dynamic. These
examples show how some of the assumptions made by the SA are
based on ecologically invalid information.
May be dependent on culture, Piliavin – more helping behaviour (altruism) in the sixties or in
society, historical context, etc
American culture.
Milgram – more respect for authority in the sixties?
This shows that the findings of social approach studies are context
and culture dependent and may not be applied now or in all
Ignores the influence of
e.g. not everyone went to 450V in Milgram’s study
individual differences
Piliavin - some people are more willing to help
R&H some guards were more authoritarian.
This shows how the social approach cannot explain all behaviour, as
some people behave differently from what is expected.

ID and Social Approach Strengths and Weaknesses teacher