The uses of Reductionism in Psychology

Before hand I would like to apologise for the late blog entry as I thought our blog is in for Sunday instead of Friday. But here comes my blog 🙂

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Reductionism is an approach to see the subject of Psychology in a more simplified way, by reducing the focus on other factors which would influence the outcome. An example can be found in the researching on Depression. There are many factors would lead to the development of Depression, such as Genetic Deposition and Childhood Deprivation. However Neuropsychologists would only focus investigating on the influences by neurotransmitters, such as Norepinephrine and Serotonin.

We study Psychology with a Reductionism approach because it would allow us to investigate the subject matter easier. By focusing on only one area of the matter, we can be more objective in our research, which increases the validity of the data collected due to being more relevant. Concentrating in one area not only makes it easier for us to understand, but also makes it simpler for us to replicate the investigation through Scientific Methods.

An example of research being Reductionist would be the famous case study of Phineas Gage.

Phineas Gage is from America and was a Railroad construction foreman. He experienced an accident of which a large iron rod projected into his skull, and that caused brain damage, especially to his left frontal lobe.

‘Phineas Gage, a foreman on the railroad in
Cavendish, was yesterday engaged in tamping
for a blast, the powder exploded, carrying an
instrument through his head an inch and a fourth
in [diameter], and three feet and [seven] inches in
length, which he was using at the time. The iron
entered on the side of his face, shattering the
upper jaw, passing back of the left eye, and out
at the top of the head.’ (Boston Post, 1848)

Despite the accident, Gage managed to survive, and made sound recovery being able to go back to an almost normal state and not to die. However, despite his full physical recovery, it was found that the accident had actually caused personality change, away from being how he was; a responsible and hardworking man.

“His physical health is good, and I am inclined to say that he has
recovered….The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his
intellectual faculty and animal propensities, seems to have been
destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest
profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little
deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts
with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and
vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner
arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more
feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has
the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, though
untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was
looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart business man,
very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this
regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and
acquaintances said that he was “no longer Gage.” (Harlow (1868))

Human brain is still a mystery for mankind and the case study brings an interesting insight on how the damage of frontal lobe would cause personality change. Without being reductionistic and only focus on the area of the brain which was damaged, it is hard to investigate the account of the individual scientifically. Now it is agreed that the frontal lobe is associated with personality.

Some argue that Phineas Gage’s personality change has nothing to do with the head injury he received by the accident, but by the attention and focus he had by other people with the miracle. This shows the disadvantage of being reductionism, as it ignores other possible reason for the cause.

The opposite of Reductionism is Holism, which try to improve our understanding by looking the whole picture and not just focusing on one specific area. It helps investigating how different factors which would contribute to the cause, however it is difficult to be objective and investigate scientifically in an easier manner.

Despite the disadvantages, I would say Reductionism is useful in Psychology as it helps us focus on certain reasons for the cause and not get distracted by other factors. Furthermore the approach makes it easier for us to investigate scientifically, and improve our understanding of matters.

Reference List:

The Boston Post (September 21, 1848)

Harlow, J. M. (1868)

Eugene Kwun Kit Fung
16/10/2011
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Appropriateness using Case Studies in Psychology

Case Study is a type of intensely concentrated research involves with focusing on only one individual person or small unit, normally with special features which worth Psychologists investigate on. An example would be Genie who experienced traumatic childhood neglect.

Genie spent almost all of her first 13 years of life socially isolated, strapped to a potty chair in a bedroom by her father, and got punished when trying to vocalise words. She can barely speak, with only knowing few words such as ‘stop it’, and ‘no more’. Genie got involved in researches involving with language acquisition after she got rescued, due to her exceptional lack of development for vocalising.

Case Study is the only ethical way to investigate something like in Genie’s case, as it would be immoral to replicate the study having someone being orally undeveloped by creating an experience of which Genie been through. Researches on Genie gave us the opportunity to try investigating if there is a critical age for language acquisition, like the idea that there is a critical age for forming Attachment.

Despite Cases Studies like on Genie provide us good insight in area which is hard to investigate in our society, however the nature of which it only focuses on individual person or small unit makes the result lack of external validity; unable to generalise to the wide population.

One further disadvantage of Case Studies is that they are easily affected by researchers being biased with the tendency to support the research hypothesis or by the researchers’ own view. Some argue that the case study of Little Hans is purely dominated by Freud’s own interpretation and it is not scientific at all. However, it helps with the developing of psychoanalysis, such as free association and dream analysis, which are still very useful nowadays in helping patients.

Overall, I think using Case Studies in Psychology is appropriate. Despite the disadvantages, Case Studies provide the potential to establish an innovative hypothesis for further researches. Furthermore, sometimes it is the only possible method for investigating certain sensitive area which can easily been classed as unethical, to help us to improve our understanding.

Eugene Kwun Kit Fung
06/10/2011

“Is it possible to prove a research hypothesis?”

Research Hypothesis is an established statement by a researcher who believed in what may happened between the relationships between variables/factors. It is a starting point of our extending for knowledge. Repetition of tests will be followed after the establishment of Research Hypothesis to investigate the reliability of the statement.

The possibility of proving a research hypothesis had always been questioned and evaluated by those who want to increase the reliability of their understanding to the subject, as the proving would allow the knowledge being more valid to our world and be practical in our day to day life. Nevertheless, I believe it is not possible to prove a research hypothesis.

Kuhn once wrote “Successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science.”

Paradigms of which Kuhn mentioned are steps of which how our knowledge for Science progress as more information on the area been gathered. His view on ‘Paradigm Shift’ has demonstrated on how Science needs constant testing, and when a surprising discovery in the field has been found, we have space for improvement to start up a new hypothesis to expand our stretching understanding.

It is necessary to discover all the contributing variables in order to prove a research hypothesis. However, it is impossible to be sure that an unexpected variable will not be discovered in the future. It is possible this unexpected variable may provide evidence against the hypothesis, and would demolish the possibility to prove a research hypothesis (Paradigm Shift). An example would be the disproving of the Geocentric Model. It was once widely agreed and accepted by many (influenced by the Christian Church) that the Earth is the centre of the Universe, but the discovery by Galileo provided contradicting evidence which helps disproving the hypothesis.

The nature of which the Paradigm Concept is an endless cycle makes Research Hypothesis would always continue altering for improvement, and makes it impossible for it to be proved.

Eugene Kwun Kit Fung
30/9/2011

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