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Research foul-ups and blunders.

Researchers of personality and social psychology have a lot in common, says psychologist Rae Carlson; both groups have little of significance to say either about persons in society or individual personality because they rely on faulty assumptions and inadequate research methods.

These defects are apparent in studies filling a major professional journal, contends Carlson, herself a personality researcher at Rutgers -- The State University in New Brunswick, N.J. Social psychologists largely fail to study people drawn from meaningfully defined social groups (such as religious congregations or occupational groups), to consider socioeconomic variables (such as ethnicity and social class), to study genuine social interaction that is not experimentally manipulated, to observe social influences on psychological functioning or to ask subjects about social issues. With few exceptions, Carlson, says, personality researchers fail to study other than college students, to use biographical material or personal documents, to tailor experimental treatments to subjects' personal characteristics, to study persons over time or to analyze individuals rather than groups.

Carlson's conclusions, reported in the December 1984 JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, are based on a content analysis of articles published in the same journal during 1982. almost nine out of 10 social psychology studies failed to meet more than one of the five criteria outlined above. The picture was about the same for personality studies.

The problem, notes Carlson, is that researchers concentrate on isolated variables that say little about the development and organization of personality and persons in society. The attraction of these variables, she says, is that they can easily be quantified in a "clean, scientific" way. Carlson published a similar critique of personality research about 14 years ago; several other psychologists also called for a revision of personality and social research during the 1970s. But not much has changed since then, asserts Carlson. There is no unifying intellectual force in these fields as there once was, she points out. For example, during the 1930s and 1940s, personality researchers developed broad theories relating culture to personality which were explored in field experiments.

"We have to face up to the intrinsic complexity of personality research," she told SCIENCE NEWS. "Our field has been far more anxious to demonstrate the purity of its measures than the explanatory power of its formulations."
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Title Annotation:criticism of techniques used in research in personality and social psychology
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 23, 1985
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