Idiographic versus nomothetic approaches to psychology
Nomothetic approach Idiographic approach
Definitions The approach of investigating large The approach of investigating
groups of people in order to find individuals in personal, in-depth detail to
general laws of behaviour that apply achieve a unique understanding of
to everyone them.
Assumptions Nomos= laws in ancient Greek; this Idios= ‘private’ or ‘personal’ in ancient
approach assumes that an individual is Greek; this approach assumes that
a complex combination of many humans are unique.
universal laws; it is best to study people
on a large scale.
Quantitative Experimental methods Qualitative methods are best; case study
are best to identify the universal laws method will provide a more complete and
governing behaviour. global understanding of the individual
The individual will be classified with who should be studied using flexible,
others and measured as a score upon a long terms and detailed procedures in
dimension, or be a statistic supporting order to put them in a ‘class of their own’.
a general principle (‘averaging’).
Examples from The nomothetic approach is the main • Freud (1909) the clinical case study
approach within scientifically oriented method (patients interviewed over a
psychology psychology. long period of time, notes of his
• Behaviourism: experiments with interpretations, unstructured
animals (rats, cats and pigeons) techniques (free association), and he
_establish laws of learning (B.F. wrote up his notes at the end of the
Skinner e.g.). day to allow a more free and natural
• Social psychology: Milgram e.g. expression of the patients’ thoughts