Idiographic and Nomothetic Research Methods in Psychology

Psychology alternates between nomothetic and idiographic approaches in research. Both approaches have strengths for different situations within the research process. The idiographic approach is subjective and depends on the experiences of the individual. On the other hand, the nomothetic approach is focused on the statistical and numerical aspects of the research to arrive at generalized conclusions. Researchers primarily employ the nomothetic approach focused on identifying the similarities between individuals. The nomothetic approach aims to establish generalized laws that apply to all individuals. The process aims at establishing laws by first categorizing people into groups. The second step is to establish laws that bind each of the groups and establish dimensions for comparing people within the groups.

The nomothetic approach is also known as the personality approach and employs scientific methods like experiments to arrive at quantitative data. The groups’ averages are used as generalized laws that use predictions for individuals in each of the groups. Any study of an individual will involve categorizing people in either group and using the group generalizations to make predictions. The advantages of the nomothetic approach include its scientific treatment of problems. The obtained conclusions are precise and could be used in prediction and behavior control. Also, the approach could be applied to studying large groups.

Due to its scientific approach, the method is considered more objective, and the results can be verified through replication of the studies. The approach is credited as the reason psychology has turned scientific by using empirical tests. However, the study is limited by the fact that the predictions for the group may not apply to the individual in the case of people. Another limitation is that the approach tends to lose focus on studying the individual. An example of the approach was used by Little Hans analysis by Freud in 1909. In the study, Freud analyzed notes from the victim to understand why he feared horses.

The idiographic approach focuses on the unique attributes that make people unique. Unlike the nomothetic approach, the idiographic approach is not interested in general laws but in the uniqueness of the individual. The approach is qualitative and uses methods such as unstructured interviews, autobiographies, reports, and case studies. Gordon Allport did an example of the study on 18000 separate individuals to identify their unique attributes.

Another example is the Q-Sort procedure that uses cards for self-evaluation of an individual’s characteristics. One of the strengths of the approach is the unique study of the individual. Consequently, researchers use the approach when they wish to predict the behavior of the individual accurately. Secondly, the results from the study could be used as a hypothesis in later studies. The main limitation of the approach is that it consumes a lot of time and is difficult to verify through verification.

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