Nature and Nurture

The nature versus nurture debate is a long running debate within psychology which looks at whether behaviour is influence by inherited influences such as our genes and biological make-up (nature) or our experiences and environmental factors (nurture).

Nature = The idea that human behaviour is determined by our innate qualities.

Nurture = The idea that human behaviour is determined by our personal experience.

Individual versus Situational Explanations

This debate is concerned with where we look for the cause of behaviour. Behaviour can either be explained by looking within the individual (e.g. an individual’s personality or dispositions) or the situation a person finds themselves in (e.g. group pressure, group membership etc.).

Individual Explanations = —something about the person is used to explain behaviour

Situational Explanations = something about the situation is used to explain behaviour.

Reductionsim versus Holism

This debate refers to whether it is more appropriate to study behaviour by either breaking it down into small component parts (reductionsim) or studying the many interacting and complex aspects as a whole (holism).

Reductionsim = Seeks to understand human behaviour by breaking it down into its smallest possible parts – complex behaviour should be explained in the simplest terms possible.

Holism = Seeks to understand human behaviour by studying the whole – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Determinism versus Free-Will

This is one of the oldest philosophical debates in psychology. The core of the determinism versus free-will debate  is whether human behaviour results from forces over which an individual has no control (determinism) or forces over which an individual has control (free-will)

Determinism = The idea that human behaviour is caused by forces over which we have no control.

Free-will = The idea that humans are free to choose their behaviour, that we are essentially self-determining.

Psychology as a Science

The debate as to whether the study of psychology should be considered a science or not. Psychology can be considered a science if it is seen as using a scientific approach which is objective, can be replicated, but cannot be falsified. However, psychology may not be regarded as a science if it seen as using an unscientific approach which is subjective, subject to interpretation and bias.


Ethnocentric bias refers to the idea that as individuals and groups, we find it hard to think outside of our own cultural experiences, so we just unquestioningly assume that the way things happen in our own culture is the way things happen in all cultures. A consequence of this is that explanations and/or findings of research may only apply to certain cultural groups and therefore we need to be cautious when trying to generalise findings to the population as a whole.

Usefulness of psychological research

This refers to the practical applications of psychology in everyday life.  In order to decide whether or not psychological research is useful, it must:

  • Be of benefit to society and the world we live in.
  • Contribute to our understanding of human behaviour and enhance the value and status of psychology as a subject.
  • Be ethical – participants should give informed consent and not be deceived. (However a study may have to be unethical to be really useful)
  • Be ecologically valid, i.e. the ability to generalise  findings to real life settings.
  • Have a representative sample. To apply it world wide there should be no ethnocentrism.

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