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Compare and contrast idiographic and nomothetic approaches Essay

The concept of personality is needed in psychology. There are many definitions and expressions of personality. Allport, 1961 identified it as: ‘Personality is the dynamic organization, within the person, of psychophysical systems that create the person’s characteristic patterns of behaviour, thoughts and feeling’. Prince, 1924 described personality as ‘the sum of all the biological innate disposition, impulses, tendencies, appetites and instinct of the individual and the acquired dispositions and tendencies – acquired by experience’. Funder, 2004 understood this concept as follows: ‘Personality refers to and individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour together with the psychological mechanism – hidden or not – behind those patterns.’

Nowadays, we can find two kinds of psychology concerned with personality, which are clinical psychology and academic psychology. Both of them have a crucial value for understanding of personality. Clinical psychology is concentrated on the issues that a person as an individual faces when he or she is not able to deal with the problems and sorrows of daily life. The study of clinical psychology focuses on each person in depth, and the role of the clinical psychologist is to try to help them through therapy. There is an idiographic approach to studying personality, by which the study of an individual is carried out independently and without comparison to others. People like Freud, Jung and Rogers were theorists, but also clinicians.

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In contrast with clinical psychology, academic psychology is primarily focussed on the study of groups of people. For example, psychologists may study the level of aggressiveness in a group of people that are the same age, share the same culture, the same gender or have the same occupation, in a variety of situations. This is called the nomothetic approach. Famous academic personality theorists are Eysenck, Cattelll and Allport.

There is a clear distinction drawn between the idiographic and the nomothetic approach. The idiographic approach doesn’t generalize, but individualize, which means it entertains by uniqueness of personality. Another positive feature of this approach is the depth of the investigation, which permits us to detect the unconscious processes more correctly. The big disadvantage of this method is the results are too subjective and unscientific; as a result there are different conclusions for each individual, which are suitable only to the individuals that were clinically diagnosed. The findings are not applicable to the non-clinical population.

The measurement of the nomothetic approach is more valid, precise and reliable. The findings are more objective than in idiographic methods and it is possible to use them in a new study. The aim of this theory is to find what is normal in a group of people. The methods are possibly applicable to all people. The investigation is not depth, but very superficial. It is not really possible to define the unconscious processes.

We are aware of 6 paradigms that guide personality research. These are: 1.) Psychodynamic theories – a presumption that an individual’s personality is motivated by unconscious emotions, which occurred already in childhood and these are commonly unpleasant and negative. Psychodynamic theories use the idiographic methods. The representatives of those theories are Sigmund Freud, Jung, Adler, Anna Freud and Erikson. 2.) Humanistic theories – study how the positive and healthy personality can reach self-actualisation and individual happiness. A case study approach is used in this research method. The main theories are Maslow, Rogers and Kelly.

3.) Trait theories – inform how the combination of personality characteristics, which are called traits, can affect the behaviour of people. Trait theories are measured by questionnaires. Allport, Cattell, Eysenck, Costa and McCrae contributed to this paradigm. 4.) Cognitive-behavioral theories – emphasize thoughts and beliefs and their effect in the attitude of an individual in a particular situation, and will completely disregard the biological aspect. Self report and questionnaires are used to obtain the measure of personality. The main representatives of this paradigm are Bandura, Rotter, Kelly and Mischel.

5.) Biological theories – are focused on our biological material and hormones and the influence of it in our behaviour. The work with twins and through neurological research helped us to understand this part of personality. That was thankful to Sheldon, Plomin, Eysenck and Cloniger, who contributed to this theory. 6.) Behavioral theories – explain the effect of behaviour on reward and punishment. The primary method of research for behavioural theories is by observing the individual. The main theorists are Skinner, Dollard and Millar.

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