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October 2021

Ideographic and nomothetic apporaches in psychology

Journal/Book: Z Psychol. 2000; 208: Im Weiher 10, D-69121 Heidelberg, Germany. Johann Ambrosius Barth Verlag. 72-90.

Abstract: The tension between ideographic and nomothetic approaches in the psychology of the 20(th) century is discussed from a methodological point of view. It is pointed out that some so-called general laws in psychology contain hidden individual parameters (e.g., the Weber-Fechner law of psychophysics), and that often they are not as universal as many believe. As Lewin observed, they describe laws at the level of person aggregates, and drawing inferences from the aggregate level to the individual level can be misleading. This applies not only to mean trends but also to correlations between persons, thus to personality psychology. Stern's and Allport's critique of the differential-psychological approach to individuality is contrasted with two recent attempts of enriching nomothetic approaches with idiographic data: person-centered analyses of personality types and multi-level analyses of individual functions. It is concluded that idiographic and nomothetic approaches can be fruitfully combined, and that there are practical rather than theoretical limits to making psychology more idiographic than it has been in the 20(th) century.

Note: Article Asendorpf JB, Humboldt Univ, Inst Psychol, Oranienburger Str 18, D-10178 Berlin, GERMANY

Keyword(s): ideographic approach; nomothetic approach; differential psychology; individuality; multi-level analyses; PERSONALITY; STRESS


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