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A Critical Psychological Approach Psychology Essay

A Critical Psychological Approach Psychology Essay

A qualitative research report using a biographical interview and a thematic approach, to gain an insight into the extent of prejudice in day to day living from the perspective of an individual’s experience of an educational institution and through literature promoting the British National Party.


For this report I will be using information gained during two types of analysis from a critical psychological approach. These approaches are qualitative methods that are not based on science like experimental psychology. The critical approach takes into account such things as the spoken and written word. It is based on the bigger picture of society and suggests that people are the products of social interaction. I will be using the interview and thematic approaches when researching prejudice.

Allport (1954) as cited in Ritzer and Ryan (2011) describes prejudice as “the result of a psychological process of categorising people into in-groups and out-groups” Allport was suggesting that in-groups are considered to be superior having desirable and positive attributes, and out-groups are seen to be undesirable with negative qualities.

Allport saw prejudice as an attitude that was split into three different areas, those being prejudicial thinking, prejudicial feelings and prejudicial behaviour. As scholars have researched the topic in depth, it is safe to say that there are many definitions of prejudice. According to Stainton Rogers (2011) “A growing body of those working in this field defines three main categories of prejudice” those being institutional, blatant and subtle. Allport as cited in Stainton Rogers (2011) defined blatant prejudice as “an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalisation” Pettigrew and Meertens (1995) as cited in Coenders et al (2001) agree with Allport’s definition but suggest that blatant prejudice “is expressed in opposition to intimate contact with the out-group and the perceived threat and rejection from the out-group”

In simple terms it is generally agreed that blatant biases are not deniable (Sritharan & Gawronski, 2010). They are obvious attacks on an individual or a group to show displeasure and often anger at an individual or group that does not fit in with their own values or perceived norms.

According to Stainton Rogers (2011) subtle prejudice tends to be less obvious, she argues that “it is less to do with outright hostility and more a tendency to assume that your own worldview is the norm”

Gaertner and Dovido (2000) as cited in Stainton Rogers (2011) suggest that

Subtle forms of prejudice is an attempt to reconcile deep seated negative feelings towards certain others, and a personal self image of being a fair, tolerant and even minded kind of person. People who act like this genuinely see prejudice-for example-racism- as wrong.

The Macpherson report, 1999, took place due to a heavily criticised and inconsistent investigation by the police into the death of Stephen Lawrence. The reports focus is that the police service should reflect the diverse communities that it serves. The inquiry made reference to the fact that the police should show more sensitivity and awareness to the problems encountered by ethnic minority communities who have found themselves over policed and under serviced. (Newburn,2003,p215) The Macpherson report emphasised that the police service is institutionally racist. Macpherson defined institutional prejudice as

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

It has been suggested that there are three main experimental psychological theories on the causes of prejudice. The social learning theory, which was developed by Bandura suggesting that behaviour is learned and that if a child sees a certain type of behaviour then that behaviour will be copied and accepted by the child to be the norm. Bandura argued that learned behaviour does not necessarily have to be reinforced positively or negatively in order for it to be remembered. However Aboud (1993) suggests that “prejudice is present in children as young as five, but it declines as a function of social cognitive development by eight or nine years of age” Both Aboud and Bandura’s theory of social learning suggests that learning prejudice is a developmental process.

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The Authoritarian personality theory suggests that prejudice is the result of the influence of particularly strict parenting; the anger towards this style of parenting is repressed and displaced onto others. The explanation of this type of prejudice is not viewed as satisfactory as it does not explain how personality traits can influence the actions or viewpoints of people and it can’t explain how or why individuals that may not have had a particularly authoritarian upbringing join groups that have prejudice motivation. The third experimental theory relates to prejudice and ignorance, the suggestion is that the more educated and successful an individual is the less prejudice they tend to be. Suggesting that the more intellectually advanced and educated a person is the more likely they are to gain financial security and therefore they are unlikely to be in direct competition with asylum seekers or an immigrant workforce.

All of the three models are based on experimental psychology which is more concerned with scientific analysis of the individual, prejudice seen through the eyes of experimental psychology makes assumptions that prejudice is someone else’s fault and is particular to the individual, it assumes that prejudice is a problem but for a small number of people, it does not take into account that it is a common issue.

By stereotyping individuals and groups we are, according to Schneider (2004) as cited in Abrams (2010) relying “on stereotypes to make subjectively ‘informed’ judgements about ourselves and others” These judgements can turn to prejudice as we see ourselves as very different to others.

Study 1. What we did.

For this study I used the critical psychology interview technique, the participants were myself as the interviewer, a fellow student as the interviewee and a third person who observed and made notes of the responses to the questions asked. The interview was biographical as the questions related to a specific time and place. I asked the interviewee several open ended questions relating to her experience at school with the intention of discovering if she had any direct or indirect experience of friendship groups.

Before I began the interview I explained confidentiality and that I would not reveal names within my report. I also explained that she did not have to answer any question that she felt uncomfortable with and to feel free to tell me if at any time she wanted to stop the interview.

The first question that I asked was if there were any groups in her school and if so what kinds of groups there were. Her response indicated that there were several and those included ‘the trendy girls, the nerds and the people who really didn’t care.’ I asked the interviewee if she was in any friendship group herself and she informed me that she was in ‘the really didn’t care group.’ She then went on to explain why, she told me that she didn’t follow the latest fashions and wore what she felt most comfortable in, she stated that she ‘pretty much lived her own life’. I went on to ask how she recognised who was in which group. She explained that they all wore the same clothes, same skirts, same loafers, and same hairstyles. She stated that the groups were not known by names and then paused for a moment before saying ‘they were just the bitches’, she informed me that the members of the ‘bitches’ group made those not in their group feel that they had no place there and were inferior. She suggested that the ‘nerds’ and the ‘people who really didn’t care’ went to a different youth club to the ‘bitchy’ group which created a greater divide.

At the end of the interview I thanked her for her participation. However I did not inform her that my colleague was taking notes and recording it, looking back, this was an error as I should have introduced my colleague which may have made the interviewee feel more at ease with the situation. The whole process was quite alien to me and at times I did not stick to the written format of the questions. I also found myself nodding in a way that may have come across that I was agreeing with her which in turn may have suggested that I expected her answers, as the interviewees responses to the questions asked were similar to my own experiences in school I found myself agreeing with her which may have made the process bias.

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Study 1. What we found.

It was clear for the responses to the questions asked that the interviewee did not associate herself with being a member of a particular group, however she did say that she was a member of the ‘people who really didn’t care’. This may suggest that although she did not see herself as in a group she felt part of a group. It was interesting to discover that she seemed to be more comfortable with the ‘really didn’t care’ people and the ‘nerds’ than she did with the ‘bitches’. It was obvious that by calling them ‘bitches’ that there was some form of resentment. It was not established during the interview, but after listening to the recording several times I felt that the interviewee was suggesting through tone of voice and choice of words that the ‘nerds’ and the people ‘who didn’t care’ were accepting of each other while the ‘bitches’ were deliberately excluding people. It was clear from the interview that the interviewee was quite comfortable with her responses but this may have been as we know each other and in a situation of not knowing the interviewer, she may have given responses that were not quite so descriptive. Upon asking her if she was in any friendship group herself, although saying no, she seemed to want to justify why she did not belong to the other group. Her explanation as to why seemed to apply to the ‘bitches’ group rather that the ‘nerds’. The mention of not following a fashion and particularly the comment she made about living her own life seemed odd, as if by being a member of the ‘bitches’ she may have lost her identify and individuality, or it could possibly be seen that the group mentality made her feel alienated, and to justify not being a member she insisted that her preference to ‘live her own life’ was more important than being part of that group.

Studies on friendship groups have suggested that cross group friendships may be beneficial in reducing prejudice. The results of a study by Pettigrew (1997) as cited in Turner (2007) “found that those with intergroup friends had more liberal views on immigration policy; they were more likely to believe that the presence of immigrants was good for their country’s future and that friendship was associated with lower levels of prejudice” This could account for why the ‘nerds’ and the ‘didn’t really care’ groups did not appear to have any animosity as they may have had inter-group friendships due to attending the same youth club.

Study 2. What we did.

For the second study I decided to look at the critical psychological approach of thematic analysis. The literature I used was a British National Party pamphlet.

I began by reading the pamphlet several times in order to familiarise myself with the content ensuring that I could identify the key words. I then made a list of codes that I had identified in the literature. I then took the list of codes and devised themes around them in a schematic format using each identified code to connect to another code that could be associated with it; this was done using a spidergram. At this stage I had developed five relatively clear clusters but these clusters did not produce clear themes that could be identified as the core theme of the pamphlet. I again revised the clusters to make connections and dropped some that did not appear to be relevant. After repeating this process several times I had managed to reduce my themes to three that were strong and relevant. Each theme consisted of three to four subsidiary themes; it was then that I began to compile my final thematic map. I had identified the core elements of the BNP pamphlet and what I understood to be the underlying somewhat hidden message. As this was a solitary research method without participants, I did not address any ethical issues.

Study 2. What we found

As expected I found that the BNP leaflet was in fact extremely prejudice and focussed on three key areas. The first theme that I discovered was based on terrorism and subliminally instilling fear into the reader by suggesting that asylum is allowing terrorists to penetrate the UK, which potentially can result in bombings. The finger appears to be firmly pointed at asylum seekers. The pamphlet makes reference to bombings, safety and extremists. The second theme that I discovered seems to be focussed around the ideology of British family values and that keeping Britain pure is essential in order to again keep the British public safe. The final themes that I identified was based around policy and blaming other parties for allowing Britain to become a target for terrorism. The pamphlet suggests that the three major political parties in Britain have all had a hand in the process of allowing the country to become ‘unsafe’. The pamphlet makes reference to safety on a number of occasions, safe borders, safe streets, safe people, safe homes, and safe country.

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Although this type of research is subjective as the literature being reviewed can be interpreted differently depending on the researcher, in general the identification of themes and patterns can be beneficial in many fields and can produce significant results.

What does it matter?

Both studies used critical psychology to indentify prejudice. I have noticed that both studies have shown that prejudice exists in different forms, the first study using the interview technique identified that due to the formation of friendship groups some individuals can become isolated, the interviewee in my study was clear in her language that she was opposed to the group she called ‘the bitches’ and as that terminology is usually used as a negative it would suggest that her experience of that group was negative. It is important to point out that the interviewee was a mature student that had left school nearly thirty years ago and for her to still regard that group in such a negative context suggests that her experience with them was detrimental.

The second study using the thematic approach identified themes within the BNP pamphlet. The way that the literature is presented is obviously designed to be racist as its focus is on asylum seekers and immigrants, suggesting that all of these individuals are a potential threat to Britain. The repeated use of the word ‘safe’ suggests that in fact this country is not safe. The pamphlet specifically says that the BNP is not racist however the terminology used within the text and the findings of the thematic analysis suggests otherwise.

Although I felt comfortable during the interview process I have to admit that at times while undertaking the thematic analysis I felt uncomfortable, the closer I got the identifying the themes the more obvious it became that the underlying message of the leaflet was a deliberate attempt to incite racist behaviour and to label people as potential threats to Britain. Although both of the studies were short and relatively simple and the findings were not new, I believe that I have learnt from my own research, particularly from the approach of thematic analysis. I am now more aware of the potential damage that literature like the BNP pamphlet can do and I will in future, while reading this type of literature, be more sceptical. Reilly (2012) states that according to a poll compiled by onepoll, one in three British people admit to being racist “A Third admitted making comments or being involved in discussions which could be considered racist and almost 40 per cent confessed to using the phrase ‘I’m not a racist, but…’ when discussing race issues”

It is important that research continues in this area as prejudice can have a detrimental effect on individuals and groups and in order to address this issue the topic needs to be fully understood.

As prejudice can be destructive and affect many areas of an individual’s life from their mental health to opportunities of achieving both emotional and financial stability it is important to perform studies to help us

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