The 4 differences between the ideographic approach and the nomothetic approach

Personality psychology deals with the study of individual differences in personality in relation to behavior. Very close to it is differential psychology, which analyzes the causes of these differences.

In this article we will talk about the differences between idiographic and nomothetic approach, The two main approaches that use these disciplines to study personality. We will see how the idiographic focuses more on the individual and the nomotetics on the traits common to individuals.

    Approaches to personality psychology

    To talk about the difference between an idiographic approach and a nomothetic approach, we’ll first look at what each of these approaches, used to investigate personality, consist of:

    1. Idiographic approach

    The idiographic approach it is based on the fundamental assumption that individuals are unique and irreplaceable beings. Its objective is to understand the human being individually, and is based on an intensive study of it (also individually).

    The methodology used for the idiographic approach consists of a selective examination of a few subjects; it is a clinical method.

    2. Nomothetic approach

    Seeing the characteristics of the idiographic approach allows us to approach the difference between idiographic and nomothetic approach. For its part, the nomothetic approach it is based on the basic assumption that individuals are similar to each other. The objective is to obtain general laws applicable to the population.

    Its methodology is based on the examination of large samples of subjects and uses correlational and experimental methods.

    3. Silly approach

    Later, a third approach appears, proposed by Lamiell in 1997. It is the idiotic approach, which part of the idiographic study to obtain nomotéticos principles (generalizable). In other words, it would be a combination of the two approaches above.

    Differences between the idiographic approach and the nomothetic approach

    As we have seen, the most important difference between idiographic and nomothetic approach is that the idiographic approach specializes in unique features of the person; it is therefore a more “personalized” and individual-centered approach. For its part, the nomothetic approach seeks generalities of the personality, the traits common to all individuals, their similarities.

    The idiographic approach understands generalizations as speculations without a solid basis, And prefers “the case” rather than “the law”. In addition, this approach believes in the “clean slate” (in the sense that we are born without personality and that it is shaped by the environment), and attaches great importance to culture and society. The environment is important in shaping personalities and “creating” individuals.

    On the other hand, there are other characteristics to take into account.

    1. Personality concept

    Another difference between the idiographic and nomothetic approach is that the idiographic approach has a dynamic and holistic concept of personality, While the nomothetic understands the personality as something static and fragmented.

    2. Theoretical approach

    The theoretical approach allows authors or researchers to follow a line of theoretical work that guides their studies. The theoretical approach he is subjectivist in the idiographic and objectivist approach to nomothetics.

    Moreover, the idiographic approach is more akin to an individual personality psychology and nomothetics to a general and differential psychology of personality.

    3. Types of research

    Another difference between the idiographic and nomothetic approach lies in the type of research since it is intensive in the case of the idiographic approach and extensive in the nomothetic approach.

    4. Personality assessment

    Regarding the personality assessment, the idiographic approach is based on a subjective and / or projective orientation, while in the nomothetic approach the assessment follows objective and / or psychometric methods.

    Personality theories

    Now that we have seen the difference between the idiographic and nomothetic approach from different angles and focusing on different aspects, we will see which authors correspond to each approach.

    1. Idiographic theories

    Regarding the authors who advocate an idiographic approach centered on the individual, we find:

    • Sigmund Freud: with his psychoanalytic theory of personality.

    • Rogers: with his phenomenological theory.
    • Kelly: with his theory of personal constructions.
    • Gordon Allport: with his theory of personality.

    2. Nomothetic theories

    On the other hand, with regard to the authors who advocate a nomothetic approach centered on traits common to all individuals, we find:

    • Raymond B. Cattell: with his factorial-lexical personality theory.

    • Eysenck: with his factorial-biological personality theory.
    • Costa and McCrae: with their theory of the “big 5” or 5 personality factors (Big Five model).
    • Gray: with his factorial-biological model of personality.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Pueyo, A. (1997). Manual of differential psychology. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
    • Sánchez-Elvira, A. (2005). Introduction to the study of individual differences. Madrid: Ed. Sanz and Torres. 2nd edition.

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