Last updated: September 22, 2019
Topic: LawGovernment
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This essay will discuss both the cognitive social and the discursive psychological perspectives. It will explore the methodologies employed in both perspectives that is, quantitative in cognitive social (concentrating mainly on the laboratory based experiments as well as psychometrics methods) and qualitative in the discursive psychological perspectives.

It will also highlight the strengths of the methods used in both of these perspectives as well as their limitations in reflecting the richness and complexity of people’s lived experience. Finally it will also highlight the differences as well as the similarities between the two perspectives. Cognitive social is a perspective that attempts to understand the causes of individuals’ behaviour. It mainly focuses on analysing individuals’ cognition processes and how these processes are structured by the society.

It explains that people experience the products of cognition processes as behaviour and since cognition processes are not directly observable, to understand them requires analysing of the observable behaviour when individuals are conducting different tasks. Therefore it employs quantitative methodologies and methods such as experiments are used. It later however developed methods of measurement that did not involve the use of experiments such as psychometrics. Other methods used in this perspective include field experiments, case studies and observation methods.

Experiments are useful tools in this perspective as they attempt to construct controlled social settings that mirror the larger world, allowing them to have the potential to reflect the richness as well as the complexity of people’s lived experience. For example, Milgram’s experiment, in which he was interested in understanding the three party situation (that is, when one agent commands another to hurt a third) was a good example of how an experiment can be designed to mirror relations of authority in the ‘real’ world (as cited in Hollway, 2007, pp. 3-54).

Experiments also allow the researchers to create theories and test hypotheses by controlling as well as manipulating variables and therefore focus on specific variables. They are also suitable for predicting outcome and producing countable findings, which can be vital for companies or government bodies who might be interested in understanding certain behaviours in people in terms of figures so as to onsequently use those statistics for generalisation. Experiments also allow for replication which is crucial for verifying or falsifying theories. However, like most methods experiments have come under a lot of criticisms. For example, experiments have been accused of being limited when it comes to tackling more complex questions and it has been claimed that the methodology does not allow for such complexity (Danziger, as cited in Hollway, 2007, p. 49).

They have also been accused of constraining people’s lived experience in that, because the relationship between the researcher and the participant is one of uneven power and the experiment environment itself is one that might be strange to the participants: this might cause the participants to give responses which they think are expected as opposed to what they would give in their everyday lives (Orne as cited in Hollway, 2007, p. 51). Moreover, it was argued that the researchers themselves might unintentionally influence the outcome of the experiment by employing techniques that favour certain outcome (Rosenthal as cited in Hollway, 2007, p. 1). Gergen also claimed that experiments are not appropriate, since by controlling and manipulating variables meant that the variables are not occurring naturally as they would in everyday life. It also meant that the variables were taken out of context which resulted in distorted or constrained meanings. Therefore Tajfel argued that experiments lacked ecological validity and Kelman accused them of lacking ethical considerations for the participants (as cited in Hollway, 2007, p. 51).

Another method employed in cognitive social is psychometrics. This method takes the assumption that attitudes are constant, stable and situated within a person. It uses questionnaires to predict people’s attitudes and then uses those findings to allocate people into categories of social attitude. This then allows for control of populations. Since its aim is to place people in categories it has been criticised for constraining people’s lived experience as it does not allow for individual uniqueness.

Furthermore, since participants are forced to choose a response that the researcher has imposed on them, confirms the criticism that this method does not have room for richness in responses but instead constrains and limits them. Moreover the method itself has been viewed to be limiting because it determines the sort of questions that can be asked, type of responses that can be given as well as the theory. In addition the methodology requires the responses to be turned into countable figures and therefore results in distorting people’s experiences.

As a critique to the concept that attitudes where located in the minds of the individuals as well as a turn in the linguistic discursive psychological perspective emerged. This perspective claims that to understand individuals (or their attitudes) requires understanding the discourse that they are in (Potter and Wetherell as cited in Hollway, 2007, pp. 59-60). It explains that discourses are ideas, statements or practises and so discourse produces particular forms of knowledge or common sense psychological ideas that guides individuals in a given that culture.

It further claims that knowledge in a given culture is produced or constructed through language, actions and also involves meaning making. It argues that language is not always neutral but instead is used as tool to derive certain meanings, to put across ideas, as well as to construct, challenge and negotiate identities. Discursive psychological main focus then is how words as well as specific emotional terms are put together to create meanings. It employs qualitative methodology and methods such as the Foucauldian discourse analysis as well as Conversation analysis to analyse conversations and textual information are used.

The researchers in this perspective attempt to identify common sense ideas (discourses) and how people use these ideas to account for events as well as their actions. They also attempt to identify contradictions as well as shifts in this common sense ideas and the positions that individuals take up within them (Raabe, 2007) Discursive psychological perspective has the potential to reflect the richness and complexity of people’s lived experience as takes a more ecologically valid approach.

This is because it not only prefers to collects the material as they are found and also as it prefers to carry out research in everyday social settings. Moreover, it takes the view that the world or every day conversations are orderly as they are and are also contextual and opposes the view taken by the cognitive social perspective which sees the world comprising of a complex mix of variables which need to be manipulated and controlled (Edwards as cited in Hollway, 2007, p. 43).

Discursive psychological perspective also attempts not to limit people’s responses by using relatively unstructured interviews which encourage participants to give their accounts in narrative forms and so allowing for individuals uniqueness as well as richness in responses (Mishler as cited in Hollway, 2007, p. 46). This contrasts the cognitive social perspective which employs structured interviews as well as structured responses. This method however has also its limitations and may also be viewed to distort people’s lived experience.

For example only limited material can be analysed at a given time which might in some cases not be representative enough and unlike the experimental methods findings from the discursive perspective cannot easily be evaluated making it difficult to be determine whether the researcher has correctly interpreted the meanings of the participants or not. Furthermore since the researcher’s main concern is to attend to how the words have been put to work in order to create meaning, they may fail to attend the significance of the material as a whole .

For example on the article from the Guardian (2004) on the Iraqi family, discursive psychological main interest was to analyse how the article was written, the different descriptors used, to identify common sense ideas, contradictions in those ideas as well as the different positions taken but did not pay any interest on the emotion ‘hate’ that dominated the article (Edwards as cited in Hollway, 2007, pp. 38, 42-44). The cognitive social perspective on the other hand approached the same article by trying to explore what causes people to hate and therefore kept that emotion central to their research (spears as cited in Holway, 2007,pp. 8-40). Both researchers however used reflexivity and (despite the different approaches they take on the subject matter, the views hold in general, or the methodologies they employ) they both try to understand people and the society that they live in.

In conclusion this essay has argued that whereas the cognitive social perspective attempts to understand cognition processes and how these are reflected in behaviour, the discursive psychological perspective provides a more ecologically valid approach by attempting to understand the role played by language and how it is used to construct meanings in everyday social ettings. Both perspectives and the different techniques they employ have however led to new insights as well as contributed to a more comprehensive understanding of people and the society in which they live in. Hollway, W. (2007). Methods and Knowledge in social psychology. In W. Hollway, H. Lucey & A. Phoenix (Eds. ), Social Psychology Matters (1st ed. , pp. 36-60) Milton Keynes: The Open University. Raabe, B. (speaker). (2007) Contemporary Methods and Perspectives (DVD 1, DD307). Milton Keynes: The Open University.