Papers by Nicky Hayes

Trends and themes in psychology

  • Recent Developments in British Psychology

  • Changing values in psychological knowledge

    Recent Developments in British Psychology

    This paper was given as part of the first academic session of a conference organised by the British and Eastern European Psychology Group. It was held in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, and attended by representatives from many different Central European countries, as well as quite a few British psychologists

    British psychology has changed dramatically during the past quarter-century. It has become more ready to acknowledge the impact of personal agency, social membership and social awareness, and less insistent on individualistic reductionism. A new emphasis on understanding real-life psychology in its social context can be detected across the entire discipline.

    For example: in developmental psychology, the individualistic orientation of Piagetian theory gave way to a view of the child's understanding as firmly located within its social context, opening up new research areas, such as the child's theory of mind, and ethological studies of family interaction. Physiological psychologists learned to incorporate cognitive influences like attribution and locus of control into their knowledge of stress; while the emergence of health psychology as a separate branch of the discipline reflected an increased awareness of cognitive and social factors in health.

    In cognitive psychology itself, reaction against the computer metaphor brought some cognitive psychologists closer to neuroscience. Face recognition, for instance, linked cognitive psychology with clinical neuropsychology as cognitive psychologists drew on case studies of people with specific deficits. Other cognitive psychologists explored how wider social awareness influences individual cognition, though schema and script theory. And in social psychology, the "European social psychologists" used social identity theory to explore how group membership colours action and cognition, and social representation theory to describe how ideology and social influence affect individual knowledge.

    These developments accompany an increased acceptance of new methodologies, such as action research and account analysis. These are gradually becoming integrated with traditional laboratory-based methods, as even hard-core experimental research becomes amplified by the collection of qualitative data from those participating. These changes may appear fragmented, but taken together they can be seen as symptomatic of a movement towards a more socially-aware and less reductionist British psychology.

    I do realise that this was a considerable generalisation, but how much can you say in 20 minutes, eh?

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    Changing values in psychological knowledge


    The nature of knowledge in the psychological discipline has always been intimately linked with its social context. Inevitably, the history of the discipline encapsulates the attitudes and methodologies of the past. This produces an inherent contradiction, since students must learn about the discipline while simultaneously being socialised into a new, ethical attitude, respecting people as autonomous, self-determining individuals.

    Resolving this contradiction involves more than just adapting research techniques, since conventional methodology is predicated on the assumption that people are inherently unreliable, and must be rigidly controlled. It involves a qualitative change in psychology itself, including the development of a new methodology in which validity comes to supersede reliability in the quest for psychological understanding. In addition, it requires an far greater acceptance of the socio-political context of psychological knowledge .There are signs that such a paradigm shift is beginning to occur, but it is obstructed by old attitudes and assumptions which need to change if we are to succeed in accepting ethical issues fully.

    The paper for which this abstract was written has become a chapter in my book Psychology in Perspective

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