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The goals of psychological research are to describe behaviour, explain, predict or control behaviour in order to investigate psychological theories. Due to this, there are a number of research methods that a psychologist can use to investigate psychological theories. Some of these methods include experimental/scientific, field experiment, natural experiment, correlation, observation, case study, survey, longitudinal and cross-sectional studies.

The first investigational method this essay will explain about is the experiment method which is a popular method used by psychologists and can be used in laboratory, field or natural experiments. An experiment is an empirical study where the researcher manipulates a factor that is of interest, called the independent variable (I.V), and records the effect on another factor, referred to as the dependent variable (D.V). The experimenter deliberately intervenes in order to assess the impact that their intervention has on the outcome.

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In psychology, the main form of experiment tends to be the controlled experiment where there is a control group which acts as a baseline in comparison with the experimental group.  An important feature of a controlled experiment is the random allocation of participants to the two groups, so there is no systematic bias in the forming of the groups. This is known as randomisation.

A key advantage of the experiment method is that it is the only technique by which cause and effect can be determined, In other words, it can show whether one variable is causing a specific impact on another variable plus it allows the researcher to distinguish placebo effects from real effects,. Another advantage is this method allows the researcher to control the situation, but this is also a disadvantage because the situation is artificial, and the results may not be a true representation of the real world. Using this method can also make it difficult to avoid researcher effects which could invalidate the results. One important disadvantage of this method is that experiments usually take place in a laboratory which is not the participants’ natural environment, and because they know they are being watched, they can consciously or subconsciously change their behaviour which will have an effect on the results.

The next method I will explain about is the case study method.  A case study involves the detailed gathering of information, ‘in which one or two individuals are studied in great detail.’ (Eysenck, M. 2000) ‘Case studies and field work observations involve the researcher fitting into the environment, to be accepted by the participants the researcher will need to have appropriate materials, equipment, look the part and speak in the same style of language.’

(Hammersley, M ; Atkinson, P. 1995) An excellent example of the case study method was carried out by Freud on Little Hans, a boy who had developed an extreme fear of horses. According to Freud, Little Hans was sexually attracted to his mother and was scared he would be punished for this by his father, who happened to ‘look’ like a horse. According to Freud Little Hans was displacing his fear onto the horses, although it is still unclear if Freud’s analysis is correct.

An advantage of the case study method is that it is a ‘good source of hypothesis, and It provides in depth information on an individual(s)’ (Eysenck, M. 2000). ‘Unusual cases can also shed light on situations that are unethical or impractical to study in other ways.’ (Wade & Tavris 1999)

Case studies also give the investigator a rich source of information that can be used to enhance ones theoretical understanding, and they can also show when ‘a particular theory is in error.’ (Eysenck, M.2000)  Disadvantages of this method include that firstly, ‘vital information may be missing making the case hard to interpret, secondly, the individuals memories may be selective or inaccurate, and thirdly, the selected individual may not be a true representative or typical’ example of the research group. (Wade & Tavris 1999)

Section C – Aggression – Behaviourist and Psychodynamic Approaches  The study of aggression and violence has been of immense importance to the psychological discipline, and with it has come a variety of different of approaches each with varying explanations as to its origins and causes.  Aggression has been defined as ‘any form of behaviour directed towards the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment.’ (Baron & Richardson, 1993)

In order to understand how different approaches explain aggression, it is necessary to look at the history and origins of each. The Behaviourist movement was mainly influenced by Ivan Pavlov, who extensively researched the conditioning of reflex responses, and was later preceded by the studies of Behaviourists such as Watson, Thorndike and Skinner. By drawing on Pavlov’s earlier works, they were able to develop major theories of learning such as classical and operant conditioning which they applied to the study of aggression in order to understand its origins. ‘Behaviourism is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things which organisms do, including behaviour, thinking, and feeling- can and should be regarded as behaviours’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behaviourism).

The Psychodynamic approach arose mainly from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, but it also encompasses later theories from Jung, Alder and Erickson. This approach focuses on internal forces within the personality, and argues that conflict between the individual parts of the personality; Freud identified three, defines our behaviour and shapes our character. One of the most basic key assumptions of the Psychodynamic approach is that a great deal of our behaviour is determined by unconscious thought processes. Procedures such as free association and dream analysis are typical research methods of this approach and they enabled psychologists like Freud to categorise these unconscious thoughts.

Behaviourists such as Albert Bandura, put great emphasis on environmental factors to explain behaviour, seeing humans as a ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate at birth. ‘Bandura argued that aggressive behaviour is learned as a result of the particular experiences that a child has had’ (Eysenck, M. 2000). Bandura devised the Bobo Doll experiment in 1961, and it has been one of the most influential studies on observational learning. It is based on a theory called The Social Learning Theory (S.L.T) which was a developed version of Behaviourism from the early 1960’s and focuses on the concept that behaviour is learned through modelling or imitation.

The participants, who were all young children, watched an adult behave aggressively towards a bobo doll. The results of the study showed that some of children, although not all, who had observed the adult behaving aggressively imitated the behaviour, where as children who had not witnessed the aggressive behaviour did not imitate the adult and behaved in a none aggressive way.

Where Behaviourists believe it is the environment that causes behaviour such as aggression, Sigmund Freud believed it was the mind which cannot be seen. Freud believed that the mind consists of three parts, the id, ego, and superego. ‘The id deals with motivational forces (e.g. the sexual instinct), the ego is concerned with conscious thinking, and the superego is concerned with moral issues’ (Eysenck, M. 2000). Freud believed that the id was responsible for basic instincts such as food, sex and aggressive principles and was divided into two categories, life (Eros), and death (Thanatos). ‘Life instincts are crucial to pleasurable survival, such as eating and sex, where as death instincts, Freud stated, are our unconscious wish to die. Freud noticed the death instinct in our desire for peace and attempts to escape reality through fiction, media, and substances such as alcohol and drugs. It also indirectly represents itself through aggression,

Freud argued that the ego and superego constantly oppose the needs of the id, which results in ‘conflict within the psyche’ (Glassman, W. 1979). It is this conflict, Freud believed, that causes aggression, and in the Psychodynamic Theory it is called displacement. The displacement theory states that in order to relinquish the needs of the id and to satisfy the impulses of a death instinct, aggressive urges could be displaced onto an inanimate object, for example venting aggression through sport.

The theories of both the Psychodynamic approach and the Behaviourist approach tend to focus on the origins of behaviour, and due to this, either see aggression as a learnt or innate behaviour but both have their critics.

Critics of Bandura’s bobo doll experiment have pointed out the distinction between Bobo the doll and other children, whilst children are quick to replicate aggression when the object is a doll, it is rarely the case with another child. It has also been suggested that the children were playing and not being aggressive. Cumberbatch (1990) reported that children who were unfamiliar with the doll were five times more likely to imitate aggression than those who were familiar with the doll. Durkin (1995) pointed out that the experiment was artificial and was not a true representation of real life because rarely would an adult demonstrate how to attack something then allow a child to have a go.

Bandura’s experiment has also been criticised for being unethical and for being reductionist because it fails to take into account other ideas such as biological factors. Freud’s theory has been criticised for lack of empirical evidence, and also because if aggression were instinctive, it would be difficult to explain cultural differences since all cultures would have the same levels of aggression. Even though both approaches have a reason for aggression, can they really be used in a modern world? Research has shown that biological factors play a large part in how aggressive a person may be, so can one seriously believe an approach as complicated as Freud’s?

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