Current Debates

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Thu May 08 1997 - 16:27:04 BST

Hi Current Debaters:

To remind you here is the schedule again:

 6 Feb Stevan
13 Feb Stevan
20 Feb Stevan
27 Feb Stevan
 6 Mar Stevan
13 Mar Stevan

20 Mar Edmund Sonuga-Barke: Developmentalist's Dilemma (no readings)
 24 Apr Paul Light: Consciousness of Consciousness (Tomasello)
 1 May Sarah Stevenage: What Was Your Name Again? (Hanley)
 8 May Jim Stevenson: Why Are Sibs So Different? (Plomin/Daniels)
15 May Peter Coleman: So shouldn't Psychology be about the
individual person?
22 May Roger Ingham (TBA)

CURRENT DEBATES: Thursdays 11-12:40

Stevan's modules (readings in Short Loan and some on Web)

MODULE 3: "Sex: What's the Difference?"
Apart from the concavities/convexities, which male/female differences,
if any, are real? Evidence will be weighed from brain asymmetry to
dating preferences. (Kenrick/Keefe Symons)

MODULE 1: "Spooks and Spoilsports."
Some nonstandard phenomena will be reviewed (psychic phenomena,
hyponotic phenomena) and methodological critiques will be considered
(demand characteristics, expectancy effects). (Rao/Palmer, Alcock, Spanos)

MODULE 2: "Shrinks and Cranks."
Do therapies - both psychic and somatic -- work? What counts as
evidence for and against? (Grunbaum, Prioleau et al.)

MODULE 4: "The Devil Made Me Do It":
The dark sides of human nature: rape, incest, violence. Does
sociobiology explain them? Is it all our evolutionary heritage? First
the case for the sociobiologists, in this MODULE and the next. The case
against will be made in the 6th MODULE. (Thornhill/Thornhill, Mealey)

MODULE 6: "Or Do We Each Have Minds After All?"
The critiques of sociobiology and behavior genetic analysis:
psychological, statistical, biological. (Kitcher)

MODULE 9: "Babbleluck I." The origins of language, during our
lifetimes, and during the lifetime of our species. (Pinker/Bloom)


SONUGA-BARKE: Developmentalist's Dilemma:
Development Amidst Cultural Diversity

Psychological theories are without exception value laden - that is they
reflect, and in some sense depend on a certain consensus about the
ideals and notions of perfection that govern actions within society.

In the first section of the seminar we will discuss the types of values
held by psychologists in western societies. We will compare these
values with the diversity of possible values and ideas. Concentrating
particularly on developmental psychology we will look at the different
ways psychologists have responded to this diversity.

In the second part of the seminar we will focus on cultural relativism
- the idea that all ideas and values have only a limited and situated
integrity. The logical, practical and ideological basis of this
position will be examined.

In the final part of the seminar I will argue the unpopular point of
view that relativism is not in fact a solution to the problem of
cultural diversity but actually an essential part of that problem.
Please come prepared to argue against this "wholly unreasonable"

MODULE 17 (PROF LIGHT): "Consciousness of Consciousness" Do animals
know others have minds? Do children? How can you tell? What is it for?
Tomasello, Michael; Kruger, Ann C.; Ratner, Hilary H. Cultural learning.
Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 1993 Sep, v16 (n3):495-552.

SARAH STEVENAGE: What was your name again?

Hanley JR Are names difficult to recall because they are unique?
Case study of a patient with Anomia. Quart. J. Exp. Psychol. 1995
48a Vol. 2 Pp 487 - 506.

STEVENSON: Plomin/Daniels (Module 4) Heredity/Environment
Plomin, Robert; Daniels, Denise.
Why are children in the same family so different from one another?
Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 1987 Mar, v10 (n1):1-16.
ABSTRACT: Describes quantitative genetic methods and research that lead
to the conclusion that nonshared environment is responsible for most
environmental variation relevant to psychological development;
discusses specific nonshared environmental influences that have been
studied to date; and considers relationships between nonshared
environmental influences and behavioral differences between children in
the same family. It is concluded that environmental differences between
children in the same family represent the major source of environmental
variance for personality, psychopathology, and cognitive abilities.
Issues - if this analysis is correct it radically alters our picture
of child socialisation. It takes us further away from a model of
general family characteristics powerfully influencing children's
development. Instead we should be considering children as active
agents in creating the environments they experience (particularly the
social environment). We should also be studying multiple children
from the same family to identify which aspects of differential
experience within sibships are important. You might like to reflect
on your own brothers and sisters and the extent to which you differ
form each other. Are there distinct events or experiences to which you
can attribute such differences - not forgetting that genetic
influences are also a major source of variation within families.

Current Debates in Psychology PY308 1996-97
Shouldnt Psychology Be More About the Individual?

Peter Coleman

This session will examine the use of case analysis in psychology and
related disciplines. Whereas case analysis is well represented within
sociological studies, psychology lags behind in its use of qualitative
methods generally, and in case analysis in particular. This is surprising
given an earlier lively tradition of case-study and psychobiography within

A psychological case-study examines an invidivuals behaviour over a
limited time span, a psychobiography examines a whole life or at least a
substantial part of it. Both types of study have been neglected in the
post-war attempts to establish psychology as a nomothetic science
concerned only with establishing universal generalisations. But
structures and patterns can also be sought at the level of the individual
case. It will be argued that it is a legitimate aim of psychology to
understand the individual in his/her own right and not only as an
exemplification of general principles.

Idiographic and nomothetic analysis are not entirely independent (the
former makes use of general theories, and hypotheses for the latter are
often based on examination of the individual case), but they do involve
different types of research activity. Analysis of individual lives
searches for reasons for actions, and patterns within the information
collected, and tries to construct intelligible narratives.

A central issue in both case studies and psychobiography is the evaluation
of competing explanations for actions. Runyan (1984), for example,
presents, as a paradigm case of the type of analysis required, an
examination of differing explanation that hve been put forward as to why
Vincent Van Gough cut off his ear. The fact that we may not be able to
give a final definite answer does not mean that we cannot make progress in
understand the person or action. Explanations are favoured that provided
the more comprehensive solution and are consistent with other evidence.
Explanations are not necessarily exclusive. Many factors influence
behaviour which is often highly overdetermined.
Satisfactory/unsatisfactory explanations may be found at different levels
of the analysis (e.g. why Van Gogh deliberately hurt himself; why he cut
off his ear....).

Psychobiography in itself is neutral between opposing views of the life
course as inherently structured or unstructured. A psychobiography
differs from a biography in that it involves the systematic use of
psychological (especially personality) theory to transform a life into a
coherent and illumination story (McAdams 1994). Most psychobiographies
have been written about famous (or notorious) individuals, but could and
should be composed (more) about any person given sufficient data. It is
important to guard against common faults which include replying overmuch
on inadequate evidence, neglecting social and historical evidence, placing
too much emphasis on childhood determinants, and overpathologising

A number of impressive psychobiographies have been composed, including
Bates study of Samuel Johnson (Bate 1984) and Macks study of T. E.
Lawrence (Mack 1990). They both present rounded pictures of their
subjects, paying attention to both strengths and weaknesses, using
psychological theory appropriately, analysing major themes in their lives,
providing a strong narrative line and a convincing picture of how their
subjects coped with problems which their circumstances, characteristics
and life themes led them into.
Full-scale psychobiographies are major undertakings. But useful studies
can also be undertaken with more limited sets of data, such as written
documents (e.g. correspondence (Steptoe et al 1993)). These can highlight
the course/development of themes over time and can be related to general
psychological theory. Methodological progress has been made in
establishing guidelines for extracting salient date for further analysis
from large datea sets.

Analysis of autobiographical material provides another approach to the
understanding of lives, in particular accounts individuals provide of how
the ends that they have sought during their lives have been transformed
through experiences, insight and the exercise of will (see Freeman 1990).

References: (Please read the two asterisked papers, McAdams (1988) and
Steptoe et all (1993) as preparation for the sessions).

General Surveys of the Use of Case Analysis Within Psychology

Runyan, W.M. (1984) Life Histories and Psychobiography: Explorations in
Theory and Method. Oxford University Press, NY.

Runyan, W. M. (1990) Individual lives and the structure of personality
psychology. In: Rabin, A. I. Zucker. R. A., Emmons, R. A. & Frank, S
(eds.) Studying Persons and Lives. Springer, New York, pp. 10-40.

See also: McAdams, D. P. (1994) The Person: An Introduction to
Personality Psychology. Harcourt Brace, New York, 1990. 2nd edition

Methodological Approaches Within Psychology

Special Issue of the Journal of Personality on Psychobiography and Life
Narratives, 1988, Volume 56, Part 1. See especially. ** McAdams, D. P.
Biography, narrative and lives: an introduction, 1-18.

Alexander, I. E. Personality, psychological assessment and
psychobiography, 265-294.

Stewart, A. J., Franz, C and Layton, L. The changing self: using
personal documents to study lives, 41-74.

Alexander, I.E. (1990) Personology. Method and Content in Personality
Assessment and Psychobiography. Duke University Press, Durham, N.C.

Peterson, Bill E., and Stewart, A. J. (1990) Using personal and fictional
documents to assess psychosocial development: a case study of Vera
Brittains generativity. Psychology and Aging, 5, 3, 400-411.

Bromley, D.B. (1977) Personality Description in Ordinary Language. Wiley,
London (especially Chapter 8 on The Psychological Case-study).

Bromley, D.B (1986) The Case-study Method in Psychology and Related
Disciplines. Wiley, Chichester.

Bromley, D. B (1990) Academic contributions to psychological counselling:
1. A philosophy of science for the study of individual cases.
Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 3, 299-308.

Bromley, D. B. (1991) Academic contributions to psychological
counselling: 1. Discourse analysis and the formulation of case reports.
Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 4, 74-89.

Freeman, M. (1993) Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, Narrative.
Routledge, London.

Freeman, M. and Robinson, R. E (1990) The development within: an
alternative approach to the study of lives. New Ideas in Psychology, 8,

Examples of Psychobiography

Bate, W. J. (1984) Samuel Johnson. The Hogarth Press, London.

Mack, J. E. (1990) A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence.
Oxford University Press, Oxford.

** Steptoe, A., Reivick, K. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1993) Composing Mozarts
personality. The Psychologist, February 1993, 69-71.

Sociologically Orientated Methodology

Yin, R. J. (1984) Case Study Research. Design and Methods. Sage,
Beverley Hills.

Stake, R. E (1994) Case studies. In: Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y.S.
(eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research. Sage. Thousand Oaks, CA., pp.

Keen. J. and Packwood, T. (1995) Case study evaluation. British Medical
Journal, 311, 444-446.

Hartley, J. F (1994) Case studies in organisational research. In:
Cassell, C. and Symon, G. (eds.) Qualitative Methods in Organisational
Research. Sag, London, pp. 208-229.

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