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Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice

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Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice

There are several issues and debates in the context of obedience/ prejudice that come up in psychology research. Some obedience issues in psychology that you may come across are ethics, individual differences or what the correct approach should be taken to investigate socially sensitive research. In the history of psychology, obedience and prejudice psychological concepts have been researched in ways which are now widely criticised as unethical. An infamous example of this is Milgrams 'electric shock' study (1963). Let's discuss the current obedience and prejudice issues in psychology in further detail!

Issues and debates in psychology

Issues regarding psychological research are things like how well-conducted the study was, whether we can take it as reliable, whether there are any problems with the study such as methodological issues, etc. Some examples of debates in psychology are the nature-nurture debate and reductionist debates. It’s important to pay attention to and learn about these issues and debates because they can affect the way we understand and apply the knowledge we gain from psychological research. If this application is done incorrectly, it can have negative consequences.

Current obedience and prejudice issues in psychology

There are a number of issues and debates that the Edexcel Exam Board has specified. They are as follows:

  • Ethics encompasses ideas and issues that appeal to our moral responsibility, such as when a study might harm a participant in some way. Ethical practices in psychology and psychological research are very important and must be considered when conducting experiments or observations.

  • Practical issues in the design and implementation of research in psychology many experiments are conducted in psychology, but sometimes because of the tasks participants are asked to do, sample size, type of experiment or other various factors, the reliability and/or validity of the research is reduced.

  • Reductionism in psychology is when a complex phenomenon is described and analysed by breaking it down to the most simple parts. However, in this way, only one explanation is taken into account to explain something. For example, biological psychologists say that our genes, neurons, neurotransmitters determine our behaviour. This viewpoint doesn’t take into account other factors such as the environment.

  • Comparisons of ways of explaining behaviour using different themes in psychology in psychology, one behaviour can be explained with different theories such as cognitive, social, and learning theories. Each of these explanations has its strengths and weaknesses.

  • The role of both nature and nurture in psychology a prominent debate in psychology is whether our behaviour stems from nature (genes) or nurture (the environment).

  • Culture and gender differences not all conducted research can be applied to all cultures or genders, e.g., some research that has only been conducted with males may not find the same results as with females. Similarly, research conducted in an individualistic culture may not have findings applicable to collectivist cultures.

  • How psychological understanding has changed over time this research is to see if some studies conducted a while ago would still find the same results today. For example, there have been replication studies on Milgram’s study of obedience (a large percentage of people still obey much as they did in the original study). Our understanding of some theories has also developed over time. Bandura built on Skinner’s idea of reinforcement and proposed vicarious reinforcement in his social learning theory.

  • Psychology as a science psychology as a science is a long ongoing debate. Some argue it is a legit science and should be treated as such, while others argue it’s not. Therefore, it is important to uphold a standard in psychological research and keep methods as scientific as possible so that research can be taken to be reliable and be replicated if need be.

  • The use of psychology in social control social control refers to how people are regulated for the benefit of society. For example, people tend to obey those in authority or uniform.

  • The use of psychological knowledge in society psychological research can help with issues in different institutions regarding treatments, therapies, police work, education, etc.
  • Socially sensitive research in psychology, research is conducted on many topics. However, some have social sensitivity, such as research about minority groups.

These issues and debates have been applied to obedience and prejudice research.

Prejudice issues and debates in psychology

Here are some prejudice issues and debates in psychology:

Ethical issues

Most experiments in prejudice research is considered unethical according to guidelines today. Prejudice research creates the potential for psychological harm, as groups are put together and conflict is encouraged. An example of this is Sherif et al.’s (1954) Robbers Cave study.

Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice young boys shouting StudySmarterConflict between groups, Pixabay

Practical issues in the design and implementation of psychological research

There is social desirability bias as people may try to mask their prejudices during experiments when they know they’re being observed, meaning the findings are not that reliable. Adorno et al. (1950) used the F-scale questionnaire to determine whether individuals had authoritarian personalities, making people prone to being prejudiced. However, participants may have answered to what they thought would be perceived as ‘socially correct’, inadvertently making them appear more authoritarian.

Reductionism

Sherif resisted explaining prejudice at a dispositional level (when prejudice is explained as being due to someone’s personality) because he thought they were reductionist. He believed prejudice is caused by conflict over resources (realistic conflict theory).

Measuring prejudice attitudes using methods that may restrict the chance to give full opinions such as questionnaires can reduce the intricacies of behaviour.

Comparisons of ways of explaining behaviour using different themes

There are different explanations of prejudice, such as realistic conflict theory, social identity theory, and authoritarian personality. The main difference between realistic conflict theory and social identity theory is competition, social identity theory proposes that we are naturally prejudiced whenever we class someone as different to us, even without competition. The authoritarian personality explanation suggests people with this personality type like to discriminate against those of lower status as them. They identify with and respect ‘strong’ people and disdained ‘weak’ people.

Psychology as a science

In Sherif’s Robbers Cave study, the variables are controlled and carefully manipulated. However, only a small sample of 22 boys took part in the study, making the results hard to generalise. As only boys took part the results may also not be applicable to girls. Also, they were all children so the results may not be generalised to adults. As this study took part in a summer camp, it has high ecological validity. However, there was no control group of another group of summer camp boys to compare the results to.

Culture and gender issues in psychological research

Social psychological theories explain behaviour as being due to social circumstances and social forces, e.g., Sherif et al. (1954) suggest prejudice stems from conflict between groups - which are not mediated by gender. However, culture may play a role in prejudice.

The role of nature and nurture in psychology

Personality explanations of prejudice account for nature. They state that some people have personalities that make them prone to being more prejudiced than others without those personalities, e.g., Adorno et al. (1950) state that the authoritarian personality makes individuals more prone to being prejudiced. On the other hand, inter-group dynamic theories look at conditions, which falls on the nurture side of the debate such as Social Identity Theory and Realistic Conflict Theory.

How has psychological understanding changed over time?

Previous theories of race supported white supremacy and black inferiority but now attitudes have changed.

Prejudice research began to focus on group dynamics (nurture), which creates an interactionist approach when combined with underlying dispositional characteristics (nature).

Social changes in attitudes and historical events influence social psychological knowledge.

Cohrs et al. (2012) examined how personality characteristics such as an authoritarian personality lead to prejudice, like the research Adorno et al. (1950) carried out.

The use of psychological knowledge in society

Knowledge attained from prejudice research has been used to reduce prejudice, e.g., in classrooms the jigsaw technique (a method of organising a classroom so students have to depend on each other to complete assignments) has been used. Knowledge of stereotypes allows us to educate people to not focus on differences but rather to be mindful of similarities. Inter-group hostility occurs due to lack of equal status contact, which explains when land was divided between protestant and catholic in Northern Ireland. Social Identity Theory has been applied to reduce negative out-group bias and inter-group conflict through desegregation housing projects in New York.

Issues related to socially sensitive research

Any prejudice research has the potential to be socially sensitive since the participants involved belong to respective groups. Early social research exaggerated the differences between races and so, bias results were produced. This led to a social, educational and economical divide.

Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice people hugging the world StudySmarterChanging attitudes of prejudice, Freepik

Obedience issues in psychology

Let’s now examine the obedience issues and debates in psychology.

Ethical issues in psychology

Most experiments in obedience research is considered unethical according to guidelines today. In Milgram’s studies, it was hard for participants to withdraw from the study as the experimenter gave prods for them to continue, such as ‘You must go on’. Participants could also potentially suffer psychological harm such as in Milgram’s studies they were ordered to give electric shocks. There was also an element of deception in Milgram’s studies.

Practical issues in the design and implementation of psychological research

Many studies are lab experiments, therefore they lack ecological validity.

Reductionism

Social Impact Theory reduces obedience to just an equation and ignores interaction and any other individual differences or social factors. Dispositional explanations only focus on character and ignore all social conditions. There is the risk of reductionism when drawing conclusions from study results such as from self-reports and interviews.

Comparisons of ways of explaining behaviour using different themes

Social Impact Theory focuses on social conditions whereas agency theory looks at evolutionary basis, socialising factors and psycho-dynamic forces.

Psychology as a science

Social Impact Theory is falsifiable as a prediction in human behaviour using an equation.

Milgram’s research in obedience had controlled variables that were also carefully manipulated.

Culture and gender issues in psychological research

Milgram’s research was androcentric (focused on men) but he did conduct one study with women and found no significant difference in obedience rates. Social psychological theories explain behaviour as being due to social circumstances and social forces, which are not mediated by gender.

Crutchfield (1955) found women to be more compliant than men, but argued that this was due to methodological bias. Kilman and Mann (1974) found the same issue of methodological bias with culture.

Obedience research across different cultures have found that a similar amount of obedience between America and an average of other cultures. However, obedience levels differed in different countries. The average level of obedience in America was 61%, India had a lower level of 42%, meanwhile, Germany and Austria had much higher levels of 80 and 85%, respectively (Blass, 2012).

The role of nature and nurture in psychology

Milgram was trying to show that obedience was not a dispositional trait (nature) but rather a consequence of situation (nurture). Arendt (1963) described obedience as an ingrained behaviour which is established through socialisation.

While personality theories normally account for nature, nurture isn’t completely ignored since Adorno puts forward that the authoritarian character develops from harsh parenting.

How psychological understanding has changed over time

Burger (2009) conducted a partial replication of Milgram’s obedience study. He found Milgram’s conclusions are still true today; people still obey authority figures when influenced by situational factors.

The use of psychology in social control

Social Impact Theory can be used to develop helpful social interactions (e.g. teacher:student ratio)

The tendency to obey authority figures is used in society such as policemen and others in uniform who command obedience.

Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice police in uniform StudySmarterPolicemen in uniform, Freepik

Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice - Key takeaways

  • The Issues and Debates in Psychology, according to the Edexcel Specification, are:
    • Ethics
    • Practical Issues in the Design and Implementation of Research in Psychology

    • Reductionism in Psychology

    • Comparisons of Ways of Explaining behaviour using Different Themes in Psychology

    • The Role of both Nature and Nurture in Psychology

    • Culture and Gender Differences

    • How Psychological Understanding has Changed Over Time

    • Psychology as a Science

    • The Use of Psychology in Social Control

    • The Use of Psychological Knowledge in Society

    • Socially Sensitive Research

  • We can apply these issues and debates to the obedience and prejudice research that has been conducted, which shows the ways this research benefits us, how reliable and valid it is, any issues there are with it, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions about Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice

The issues and debates that apply to obedience research are: ethical Issues in psychology, practical Issues in the design and implementation of psychological research, reductionism, comparisons of ways of explaining behaviour using different themes, psychology as a science, culture and gender Issues in psychological research, the role of nature and nurture in psychology, the use of psychology in social control, the use of psychological knowledge in society and socially sensitive research.

The factors that affect obedience are dispositional explanations which states certain personalities are more likely to obey than others, such as the authoritarian personality. Also, situational factors which is to do with the environmental such as an authority figure in uniform.

Issues in psychology are factors that affect how well-conducted the study is, debates are to do with what theory explains better a phenomenon such as the nature-nurture debate and reductionist debates. 

The issues and debates that apply to prejudice research are: ethical Issues in psychology, practical Issues in the design and implementation of psychological research, reductionism, comparisons of ways of explaining behaviour using different themes, psychology as a science, culture and gender Issues in psychological research, the role of nature and nurture in psychology, the use of psychology in social control, the use of psychological knowledge in society and socially sensitive research.

Situational factors in obedience are factors in the environment that affect how obedient someone is. 

Final Issues and Debates in the Context of Obedience/Prejudice Quiz

Question

List the issues and debates according to the Edexcel Specification.

Show answer

Answer

The issues and debates in psychology, according to the Edexcel Specification, are:

  • Ethics
  • Practical Issues in the Design and Implementation of Research in Psychology

  • Reductionism in Psychology 

  • Comparisons of Ways of Explaining Behaviour using Different Themes in Psychology 

  • The Role of both Nature and Nurture in Psychology 

  • Culture and Gender Differences

  • How Psychological Understanding has Changed Over Time

  • Psychology as a Science 

  • The Use of Psychology in Social Control 

  • The Use of Psychological Knowledge in Society 

  • Socially Sensitive Research.

Show question

Question

Why does prejudice research cause psychological harm?

Show answer

Answer

In prejudice, research groups are put together, and conflict is encouraged. 

Show question

Question

Why is prejudice research not that reliable in terms of practical issues in the design and implementation of psychological research?

Show answer

Answer

  • There is social desirability bias as people try to mask their prejudices during experiments when they know they’re being observed, meaning the findings are unreliable.

Show question

Question

What's the main difference between realistic conflict theory and social identity theory?

Show answer

Answer

Competition

Show question

Question

Why is it hard to generalise findings from lab experiments?

Show answer

Answer

Because of lack of ecological validity since lab experiments have very controlled and manipulated variables.

Show question

Question

What are the nature and nurture sides of the debate of where prejudice behaviour comes from?

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Answer

Personality explanations of prejudice account for nature.

On the other hand, inter-group dynamic theories look at conditions, which falls on the nurture side of the debate.

Show question

Question

What was wrong with previous theories of prejudice/race?

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Answer

Previous theories of race supported white supremacy and black inferiority.

Show question

Question

What were the ethical issues with obedience research?

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Answer

  • Removes right to withdraw
  • Creates potential psychological harm
  • Includes deception

Show question

Question

Which reductionist factors are included in obedience research?

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Answer

Social impact theory reduces obedience to just an equation and ignores interaction and any other individual differences or social factors. Dispositional explanations only focus on character and ignore all social conditions.

Show question

Question

Are there any gender differences found in obedience research?

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Answer

Most of Milgram’s research was done with men only, but no significant difference was found in one variation with women in obedience rates.

Show question

Question

What are the nature and nurture arguments about where obedience stems from?

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Answer

Milgram showed that obedience was not a dispositional trait (nature) but rather a consequence of the situation (nurture). Arendt (1963) described obedience as an ingrained behaviour established through socialisation. While personality theories typically account for nature, nurture isn’t completely ignored since Adorno puts forward that the authoritarian character develops from harsh parenting.

Show question

Question

How can knowledge that is attained from Milgram’s research help with social control?

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Answer

From Milgram’s and others’ obedience research we can prevent harmful blind obedience in the future.

Police officers wear uniforms and can punish people who disobey.

However, this can be positive since super-ordinate goals can reduce prejudice by controlling levels of inter-group hostility.

Show question

Question

What is an issue with the social impact theory regarding psychology as a science?

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Answer

Social impact theory is falsifiable as a prediction in human behaviour using an ‘equation’ that is either observed or not observed.

Show question

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