Nomothetic Approch to Personality

What are the strengths and limitations of the nomothetic approach in the study of personality? Gordan Allport (1934) identified both the idiographic and nomothetic approaches to personality testing. This essay will concentrate solely on the nomothetic approach and attempt to identify both the strengths and limitations when explaining personality using this approach. The nomothetic approach suggests that most personality traits are consistent within humans. People show universal traits that only differ in the extent to which the trait is present.

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For example analysing behaviours such as aggression within a set environment allows psychologists to establish norms for this behaviour within the group and furthermore identify normal and abnormal degrees of aggression, in individuals within the population studied. Traits that apply to everyone are referred to as common traits suggesting everybody have similar basic core personalities The nomothetic approach relies on quantitative research methods such as self report and questionnaires to establish universal behaviours.

One problem with this approach is that of reductionism, generalisations, which will inevitably be made, present the problem that the results from the research may only show a superficial understanding of the individual being tested. It could be argued that treating human personality as an accumulation of individual characteristics distorts reality and oversimplifies human personality by failing to examine the full range of an individual’s reaction in particular situations and contexts and therefore can be argued as being reductionist. Lazarus, R & Monat, A 1979). These generalisations may result in important ethical issues, findings using this approach may result in generalisations too the entire population, which could then be used to influence and control peoples lives. This happened when Gould (1981) studied the universal construct of intelligence, the results of the intelligence tests lead to the control of specific minority groups who scored low on the tests. These results were generalised to all embers of the population which lead to unethical behaviour in society. This is a major limitation that needs to be considered in research using this approach. The application of this approach in everyday life needs to be considered carefully. Using this approach in diagnosing depression is useful for establishing set characteristics and diagnostic criteria; however a much further, in-depth analysis is required to fully understand and meet the needs of the individual’s case in order to guide them in their recovery process.

Another strength of the nomothetic approach is that it is useful in order to explain and in particularly, predict future behaviour of individuals. Paunonen S, Douglas N (1986). This approach allows us to look at universal behaviour in humans & therefore help us to predict and explain human behaviour in the future. This can be very helpful in certain psychological settings such as criminology in order to predict and where possible prevent future crimes from occurring, if central traits can be identified in criminals that could be prevented.

As pointed out by another weakness of the nomothetic approach to personality testing is that most psychologists especially those using the nomothetic approach ignore individual differences within personality. This approach may lead to a limited understanding of individuals which limits understanding and depth of individual’s personalities which is considered with the idiographic approach. Holt (1967) also needs to be considered. Holt suggested that any description will include generalisation to some extent.

This supports the nomothetic approach it suggests that we need a schema, an understanding of people, if we are able to analyse a specific individual, therefore nomothetic approaches are essential even if idiographic approaches are implemented. K This idea supports the nomothetic approach to personality testing; it suggests that an exclusively idiographic approach is just not possible, as comparing the individual to others is essential to understanding the personality trait shown. This suggests others must have the traits identified in the individual to some extent as suggested in the nomothetic approach. .


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