Archive for December, 2010
Following on from the common theories in psychology listed in my previous post, this post will summarise the research methods and techniques used in Psychology, according to Psychology by Carlson, Martin and Buskist (2004).
Psychology uses the scientific method, containing three core types of research: observation (in natural environment, e.g. Darwin); correlational studies (observation with formal measurements and examination of relationships between measurements); and experiments (making things happen and observing the results).
Experiments are seen to be the most rigorous, and five stages are described for all research of this nature:
- Identifying the problem and creating a cause-effect hypothesis
- Design the experiment – define the independent and dependent variables
- Conduct the experiment – record observations
- Examine data collected and evaluate hypothesis
- Communicate the results
While observations are commonly used in psychology, it is experimentation that quantifies behaviours and is the only method that can determine whether theories are correct (although the importance of qualitative research has increased since the 1970s). Experiments are likely to include an ‘experimental group’ on which the study is aimed, and a ‘control group’ which is used for comparison and uses techniques such as administering placebos to replicate the conditions of the experimental group (when the research knows who is receiving a placebo, this is called a single-blind study. A double-blind study is when neither the participants nor the researcher knows who is receiving a placebo).
An experiment may use independent groups (between-groups) where each group of participants is tested in a slightly different way, or repeated measures (within-groups) where every participant is exposed to the experiment in the exact same way. Experiments may be classed as laboratory experiments where the researcher is in control over all variables, or field experiments which occur in the natural or normal environment, and in which the research should not interfere.
Whereas my other discipline (anthropology) involved studying a single particular society or community, psychology aims to explain features of behaviour more generally and so research must make use of samples to infer findings across a larger population. Random sampling is typically used. In some scenarios however, single-case study is used to focus on individuals and this uses either experiments or correlational studies. Correlational studies are studies used when there are variables which are needed to be studied but cannot be manipulated by the researcher e.g. social class, income, sex, personality etc.
Some qualitative research used in psychology includes semi-structured interviews, discourse analysis and grounded theory. However qualitative research is still rejected by many psychologists as it is too subjective for this field.
Having summarised my initial anthropology readings in my previous blog post, I have now moved on to psychology. The book I have chosen to begin with is Psychology by Carlson, Martin and Buskist (2004). As this assignment concerns the underlying theories of each discipline, the section titled ‘Philosophical roots of psychology’ seemed like a good place to start. To summaries, these are as follows:
A belief that a body is controlled, or animated, by a mind or spirit. Although this is a rather basic and historical theory, there are still links to modern explanation of behaviour, with a person’s will now being seen as the cause of certain behaviour. This is not, however a scientific explanation, as a person’s will cannot be studied.
Belief that reality can be split into two separate entities: mind and matter. Proposed the theory that mind and body interact. Influenced introspectionism and behaviourism.
Empiricism (Locke and Hume)
“Pursuit of truth through observation and experience”. Suggested that all knowledge must come from experiences, rejecting the belief that children were born with ideas in their mind. Simple ideas connect to form complex experiences. Positivism (Hume) – “All meaningful ideas can be reduced to observable material”. Ideas influenced behaviourism.
Ideas come from senses – “knowledge is the result of inferences based on the accumulation of past experiences derived through the senses”. Materialism (Mill) – Mind as a machine, part of the physical world.
More modern theories regarding psychology were then covered, and can be reduced down to and summarised as:
Mind could be broken up into the components which formed it to be studied (introspection).
Functionalism (James and Angell)
Study of conscious activity such as perceiving and learning. Thinking as a function to influence behaviour.
Psychodynamic Theory (Freud)
Theory of personality. Concepts of ego, superego and id. Included structures and emphasised function.
Behaviourism (Thorndike, Pavlov and Watson)
Followed from Functionalism. Relation between environment and behaviour. Cause-and-effect relationships. This theory relies on observable behaviour. Belief that reflexes can be conditioned. This developed further into radical behaviourism: All behaviour comes from interactions with the environment, with reinforcement influencing the responses to stimulus.
Genetic Epistemology (Piaget)
Interested in how a developing child acquires knowledge.
Gestalt Psychology (Wertheimer)
No longer exists, but has been adapted into other areas of psychology. Attempted to discover how cognitive processes are organised and interact to form perceptions.
Argument against behaviourism and psychoanalysis – conscious processes should be studied. Focuses on “experience, choice and creativity, self-realisation and positive growth”.
Behaviourism too restricting, more focus on memory and more personal ‘private’ events.
Focus on understanding the brain, and locating which function occur in certain parts of the brain.
As I have spent the majority of my reading time so far on a single book, I have decided to extract and list the key points from my previous blog posts, and then cross-examine these with the content of Cultural Anthropology: A Contemporary Perspective by Keesing and Strathern. This should hopefully help to identify the most common areas which both books cover, and this in turn should indicate what the key fundamental areas of anthropology revolve around.
Topics blogged about previously:
- Cultural realism
- Emic and Etic
- The Social Person/Human Existence
- Statuses and Roles – Goffman
- The Self – Brian Morris (1994)
- Social systems and social structures
- Habitus (Bourdieu)
The topics in bold are those I believe Keesing and Strathern cover to complement Hylland Eriksen. A couple of interesting points that I also noticed while skimming through Cultural Anthropology are that Anthropology is a lot less scientific than other social sciences – it is difficult to apply questionnaires, experiments etc when carrying out an anthropological study so research techniques have fallen back on how to “learn, understand and communicate”. Scientific method is often inappropriate – as there is “nothing to measure, count, or predict”.
This post was really just about summarising what I have covered in Anthropology so far, as I would now like to move on to Psychology having not touched it so far. I think a lot of the basic theories and ideas have strong links to sociology, but there is a definite cultural twist on them. I aim to cover the basic principles of psychology in the next couple of weeks, and then relate both disciplines to Identity once I have this understanding.
It is (slowly) dawning on me as I look at some of the earlier hypertext systems, that some of them were, in some ways, all about cognitive extension. And when I say “earlier”, I mean those that have been tried out in the past, already. Namely, Memex and NoteCard. What I don’t mean is that NoteCard is an earlier version of the Web. If anything, it seems to be a second generation hypermedia system, while the Web (I’m starting to think) is a first generation system.
I’m thinking the Memex, for example, which was to support and supplement one’s memory, is a cognitive extension just as the notebook of the person with Alzheimer’s during his visit to the Museum (those who understand that reference, know what I’m talking about).
Similarly, the NoteCard computer environment wasn’t built to replace the intellectual creative process, but to support it. To help make sense of ideas, manage and present them.
So is the Web a tool a cognitive extension?
This weeks’ complexity lecture on network science covered much of the content from the Foundations lectures, and from the book Linked. This is something I find particularly interesting, and of relevance to collective problem solving, primarily in terms of characterising the structure of the networks people can form. Interestingly, human social networks are very different from most other networks because they are characterized by a positive rather than a negative node degree correlation.
Last week, the complexity lecture was on Autopoiesis – an attempt to create a non-circular definition of life. It defines it as a self-sustaining system with it’s own semi-permeable boundary to the outside world, containing various processes that both sustain themselves and maintain the membrane. This leads to the extraction of nourishment from the external environment and excretion of waste. Whilst this was designed primarily to clarify the distinction between life and non-life at the microscopic level, the analogy to human groups (such as, for instance, the Catholic Church) may be of some interest to my topic in terms of answering – what is it that makes a group (such as one formed online to solve a problem) sustainable?
PRIVACY – Politics and Psychology (Blog Post 7)
Unfortunately my reading this week has been rather limited due to other work commitments and so for my politics research I have just read an article on the political philosophy of John Locke, in a return to the fundamental ideas and principles that have influenced political development: A Tuckness (2010) – Locke’s Political Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).
John Locke (1632-1704) is particularly influential within the context of this research as he presented political ideologies in relation to the issue of privacy. Locke purported a rather radical conception of political philosophy deduced from the principle of self-ownership and the collar right to own property. This is also based on Locke’s famous statement that a man earns ownership over a resource when he mixes his labour with it. He argued that Government should be limited to securing the life and property of its citizens and it is only necessary when problems occur that would make lives more insecure. Locke’s work – Two Treatises of Government in 1690 was a direct counter-argument to Thomas Hobbs’ Leviathan, in which Hobbes argues in favour of absolutist Government to prevent people from abusing property and privacy. Whilst The Second Treatise of Government is still influential today which has helped shape political philosophy and formed the basis for political doctrines such as The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. It places sovereignty into the hands of society. His fundamental argument is that people are equal and invested with natural rights in a state of nature in which they live free from outside rule. Individuals can change some of their natural rights to enter into society with other people, and be protected by common laws and a common executive power to enforce the laws, having executive power to protect their property and defend their liberty. The civil state is bound to its people, and has power over the people only insofar as it exists to protect and preserve their welfare. Thus citizens have the right to dissolve their government, if that government ceases to work solely in their best interest. The government has no sovereignty of its own–it exists to serve the people. Locke sees personal liberty as the key factor of a society that works toward the individual’s and the state’s best interest.
For psychology I have collated the previous readings in order to attempt to provide answers for some questions that have arisen through the research. Such as within behaviour privacy is an important aspect, but is it important as an overall issue within psychology. I have identified that the areas within psychology that are most closely associated with privacy are self and identity however there are other aspect which can be associated such as: Social psychology, Industrial/ organizational psychology, and environmental psychology. Ellen Berscheid (1977) stated that social psychologists have studied many topics that address privacy-related issues “but which are often overlooked as privacy related.” She included social facilitation, attitude formation and change, social influence, deindividuation, and social comparison processes, among other topics. I am also of the opinion that deception and disclosure could be linked to this area. In particular the latter has been linked to privacy for nearly 30 years. (e.g., Derlega & Chaiken, 1977; Derlega, Metts, Petronio, & Margulis, 1993). Bella DePaulo et al, 2003) and Andy Johnson (1974) have made persuasive cases, respectively, for linking privacy and deception and privacy and psychological control.
Next week I intend to do further reading into the areas of democracy and behaviour.
After having concentrated solely on economics, and deciding that i’m going to have to accept that i’ll struggle to find an obvious link between my research issue (reputation on the web) and the discipline, i thought i’d spend this week looking at a psychology. I’ve had a bit more exposure to this area than economics, but i’d never claim to have significant knowledge of the approach. So more basics i’m afraid.
My principle texts have been:
Psychology – The Science of mind and Behaviour by Richard Gross
Psychology by Bernstein et al
Psychology by Neil Martin
The clearest definition that i managed to find in the three books was in Gross, and states that psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and cognitive processes. There is also an interesting proposition in Bernstein and Gross that we can all be considered psychologists insofar as we all develop theories about what other people are like, and use these theories to help us explain / understand, predict and control other’s behaviour. The discipline is also branched into a number of distinct but interrelated areas; i’d heard of several of these (Behavioural, Cognitive, Clinical and Educational), but was surprised to learn there is such a thing as Biopsychology. I briefly scanned the definitions of each in order to have a fuller understanding of where i might like to concentrate my reading after i’ve got a firmer grasp of the basics, and at the moment i’m thinking of Behavioural and Cognitive (although Personality Psychology sounds like it could be relevant if it is sufficiently widely recognised as a distinct area.)
I then found that these different branches are themselves sub-branches of a divide further up the chain between ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ psychology. I was beginning to get a bit lost, as each book seemed to have a slightly different take on where the divisions lay, but the first chapter of Gross seemed to provide the clearest explanation. His way of distinguishing between the different aspects of psychology quotes Legge (1975), and gives a good flavour of the overlaps and interconnected nature of the discipline: research carried out under the banner of psychology can be divided into that which focuses on processes or mechanisms underlying various aspects of behaviour and those which focus more directly on the person.
The Process Approach
This consists of the biological bases of behaviour, learning, cognitive processes and comparitive and is often referred to as experimental psychology (with the term ‘experimental’ being used to distinguish scientific psychology from the philosophy from which it emerged.)
The Person Approach
This consists of social psychology, developmental psychology and individual differences. It is this branch which i believe will be of more use to me in terms of being able to apply the approach of the discipline to my research question, and as such i began to concentrate my reading in this area. In particular, social psychology seems like it will have much to offer.
I managed to find a fairly succinct definition by Gordon Allport which seems to sum up the text books’ definition in their introductory sections: social psychology is concerned with understanding how how the thought, feeling and behaviour of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings. Given the nature of reputation, tied up as it is with trust and relationship building, I’m certain I need to concentrate on this area. A little bit of reading around the edges led me to find several chapters in Gross and one in Martin that discussed aspects of social psychology, but having gone through these I think it would be more useful to get several books that are specifically about it.
So i’ve managed to find the area i need to concetrate on, and have an appreciation of the distinctions that exist within the discipline. I’m feeling much more confident about psychology being useful to my question than economics! I will get some social psychology texts this week, and try and focus in further on the area that i think will be of most use.
Back to economics and making money, even if technically economics isn’t actually concerned with money per se, but rather assets.
Primarily the goal of all firms is to maximise profit, failure to do this either results in the company failing, and going out of business or being purchased and subsumed by a more successful business (which ironically could be a good thing for small retailers and producers). The profit of a company is calculated simply by the total revenue of a company minus the total costs. There are always restraints on the total amount of profit that a company can make, the main three of these are technological constraints, informational constraints and market constraints. As discussed in a previous blog, economist define technology in a general way, as any method which influences the production of a good or service, as such the type of retail outlet chosen by a company is a technological constraint. For example the constraints on Novatech, a technology company, which relies on catalogue sales, differs to the constraints on Best Buy, a large superstore, which in turn differs from Maplins, which relies on many smaller stores, which further differs from the restraints on sellers based on Amazon and eBay. Companies are restrained by their nature as changing requires a large investment, which in turn affects future profits. Informational constraints occur as it is impossible for a firm to have all the information that may impact on its future growth and development, however gathering information costs resources including time. Workers are not robots and also may change productivity unexpectedly, furthermore it is not possible for a company to predict when a new technology, or new competitor may enter the market, all of these are informational restraints. The final constraint that a company faces is market constraint, this is constraints which occurs due to external market factors, for example if the global market suddenly shifts away from a product, increases a resource cost or any other external market factor. All factors influence the uncertainty level of firm.
Firms help to gain profitability by ensuring efficiency, both technological and economic. To ensure technological efficiency, firms need to produce goods or services using the least possible inputs, that is a firm which requires fifty workers and 50 units of capital to produce a good or service is more efficient than a firm which require seventy-five workers and 50 capital to produce the same good. Economic efficiency occurs when the firm can produce a good for the least possible cost. That is a firm that can produce a good for £8 per unit is far more economically efficient than a firm than that can produce the same good for £10 per unit. It is far harder however to predict economic efficiency as it depends far more on the relative cost of resources and is not a fixed number, for example a company which relies on oil rather than synthetic fuels may be efficient when the cost of oil is low however may be inefficient after a price hike in oil. Inefficient firms do not maximise profit.
When dealing with workers, companies help ensure efficiency by the use of two primary systems, command systems and incentive systems. Command systems rely on a company hierarchy to manage the workers, creating many hierarchs and layers in each firm. However managers may still have incomplete information regarding the workforce, and rely on the personal traits of the individual managers. Incentive systems work by offering incentives to workers for increased productivity. In a rather ironic system, incentive systems offer payment for workers who do their jobs! Many incentive schemes rely on share schemes to help motivate workers, however such schemes fail to have much impact if an individual has a negliable impact on the day to day operations of a firm. Alternatively several companies rely on a purely incentive pay system, where a workers pay directly correlates to their performance, despite still used considerably in the sales industry, this type of payment is on the decline due to minimum wage laws. The final action that companies use to try to motivate workers is the use of long term contracts, it is theorised that as the worker will be at a firm a long term it is beneficial to help improve the company and ensure its profitability, I have doubts with this however and can only see this working in a recession and when there is a limited number of job opportunities, in a booming economy workers are likely to be far more mobile and active in seeking an improvement to their current situation.
Most firms employ both systems to help ensure efficiency, as the management provide an easy way to disseminate information through the firm as well as a way to manage workers. Many companies also face a specific principle agent problem, ideally it is best that agents (workers and managers) work in the best interest of the principles (the firm), however agents often have their own agendas which may not benefit the firm as a whole, for example a manager may actively engage in behaviour to cast doubt on a superior to gain a promotion, this action however may not improve the firm as a whole, and may in the long run impede productivity.
It is also important to examine the types of businesses that currently exist in capitalist society. Proprietorships are lone traders, which tend to employ smaller workforces, in which the owner has unlimited liability. Unlimited liability is where the assets of the business and the assets of the owner are considered one and the same, including personal property, this means that if the firm owes a debt to creditors the owners personal assets can be seized to repay the debt, it is also likely that the firm would die when the owner is no longer capable of running the company due to ill health or death. The second main type is partnerships, which is effectively viewed as as coalition between sole traders, were all partners share risk and reward, these can be far more stable than lone traders, however may be slower to react as agreements may be hard to reach between partners. Companies are a mass coalition of share holders, all of which have limited liability, where the assets of the company are distinct from its owners, companies tend to be large, regional, national or global enterprises. Such large companies can however be inefficient in that decisions may be slow to agree on, and even slower to filter through the layers of company hierarchy. The company is however the most stable and long lasting options for investors.
All firms must operate in a marketplace, with different marketplaces being qualitative different trading environments. Some markets are characterised as perfect competitive environments, this is where many retailers compete selling identical products with no trading restrictions, this is often seen in primary industries such as mining and farming. Monopolistic competition exists where large firms compete by selling very similar but slightly different products, such as sports shoe retailers, and is best characterised by large firms, who rely on reputation and product differentiation to gain sales, large firms also actively attempt to block entry to new firms due to their sheer size and market dominance. Oligopolies exists were a limited number of companies compete to gain market share, all selling qualitatively similar goods. Finally monopolies exist where one company dominates a market virtually to the exclusion of all competitors; the most apparent example of this is in computer operating systems where Microsoft dominates by a clear margin (with a market share of over 90%). In order for consumers to gain the most out of a market, perfect competition is desirable as it helps ensure lower prices and increased internal efficiency. Market share has tended in the past to be regionally based, however since the growth of the web buyers are free to purchase globally, allowing smaller retailers into market places, encouraging growth and competition between retailers, as each seeks to offer a better deal than its competitors.
As can be seen the internal operation of a firm are essential in its successful actions in the external business environment.
Until next time.
This post will hopefully conclude the final underlying principles and theories of Anthropology, as described in Small Places, Large Issues. These latest concepts have centred on social systems and social structures, with the two being distinguished as:
- Social Systems: Sets of relationships between actors;
- Social Structures: The totality of standardised relationships in a society.
This definition of social systems relates to social networks – the relationships from a particular person, and the scale of these networks has to be considered in contemporary Anthropology as the Internet has meant that non-localised networks are of increasing importance compared to the traditionally studied small-scale societies. Rather than simply focusing on online research to study these networks, however, anthropology stresses an importance of collecting other forms of data: specifically on relationships between online activities, and other, offline, social activities. By doing this, it has been shown that the Internet/Web can surprisingly enhance people’s national and even religious identity, with the example of Trinidadians whose offline and online activities form a single entity – their identity does not seem to be being altered by the Web.
The above image displays a classification system for societies that focuses on social control. The “Group” axis classifies societies according to their social cohesion, and “Grid” on the shared knowledge in a society. A strong grid, strong group society is explained as a strictly conformist society where an individual’s identity is constructed through the public system of rights and duties. The measures on this grid can help to explain how the identity of individuals in certain societies is shaped through the social control exerted by the social system itself. A typical industrial society could fall in the weak group, weak grid sector (although they can be spread out over the graph), where members are “individualistic and anonymous, and thus others exert little social control over ego” (page 83). A counter argument is that the influence of the state on a society means that they should fall into “Strong group”, so the variation in opinions here is vast and the classifications all seem uncertain and unreliable. It appears to have more value when classifying one particular society, rather than a group such as “industrial society” which is far too vague.
There are differing schools of thought that cover the link between society and individual actors:
- Individualist thought, associated with Max Weber where anthropologists try to find out what makes people do what they do
- Collectivist thought, associated with Marx and Durkhein where anthropologists are more concerned with how society works.
Theories that focus on the actor emerged to critique structural-functionalist models in the 1950s. In these models, the individual was mainly looked over, with focus instead on social institutions. This was criticised, as it was not clear how a society could have needs and aims, and because society can only exist because of interaction – this implies that social norms must be seen as a result of interaction, and not the cause. The author summarises by stating that while structural functionalism seeks to explain cultural variation, it only succeeds in describing interrelationships.
Finally, it is described how Bourdieu examined the relationship between reflexivity or self-consciousness, action and society, resulting in a theory of “culturally conditioned agency”. “Habitus” is the term used by Bourdieu to describe “embodied culture” which enforces limitations on thought when choosing an action, and ensures that “the socially constructed world appears as natural” (page 91). This raises the question of how much of what we do and who we are is just down to habits, conventions and norms imposed on us by the society we are born in to?
As the subject matter of the book is now beginning to move away from the core anthropological theories and on to more specialised areas I will start to focus my reading on specific chapters relating to Identity to build up my knowledge of this area, before moving onto some introductory psychology texts.
For the past couple of weeks I have been reading about Ecology, primarily from “First Ecology” (Beeby, Brennan. 2ed 2004).
The book says that “Ecology is the science that seeks to describe and explain the relationship between living organisms and their environment” and the study of “the mechanisms by which species evolve, flourish and disappear.”
Interactions between species are an important aspect of ecology. Interactions are driven by the need for organisms to acquire resources, and could be co-operative, competitive or otherwise. Collaboration between people on the web could be seen as analogous to a co-operative ecological interaction.
Organisms need resources in order to survive; these resources might include water, food, sunlight (for organisms that photosynthesise) or simply space. Competition for resources is at the heart of evolution, since the organisms best suited to their environment (and hence best at harnessing the available resources) are more likely to survive. However, it is not enough for an organism simply to survive, in order to be truly successful it must pass its own genetic information on, through reproduction. We can, therefore, think of the protection and transmission of its own genetic information as being the “goal” of any given organism. Such transmission is itself a crucial part of the evolutionary process.
To achieve this goal, species have developed a huge range of strategies; from fast reproduction that can monopolise a resource, to complex colonies with thousands of individual organisms that share much of their genetic information, to highly-specialised inter-species dependencies, some of which are mutually beneficial and others which are parasitic.
Complexity is an inherent part of ecology. The environment and organisms that live in it are highly interconnected, which poses similar problems to those faced by sociology and web science (as previously discussed). I’ve started looking into how Ecology deals with this complexity, but that’s another post. I also want to look into symbiosis and other highly-cooperative interactions.