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Social research glossary

 

Explanations > Social Research > Research glossary

 

Psychology research is full of terms. This is a small glossary of things I've come across during recent travels. A full glossary would be a whole book.

 

Word Meaning Reference
Analytic statements Statements which are true by definition (vs. synthetic statements). e.g. Roses are flowers. Positivism
Androcentric The tendency for men to unconsciously bias perceptions in uniquely male ways Feminism
a priori Deductive knowledge that is independent of experience - thus 2+2=4 is true everywhere. Immanuel Kant
a posteriori Inductive knowledge that comes only through experience and testing. Logical Positivism
Atomism Things can be studied by reducing them to their smallest parts (and the whole is the sum of the parts) Positivism
Bedrock assumptions Assumptions about a theory that are unchallengeable and protected. Conventionalism
Behaviorism The derivation of general laws of how people and animals behave through observation, deduction and (usually verificationist) experiment.

Standard Positivism

Canon, canonized, canonical When a theorist or text is canonized, it is promoted to an unquestionable level of truth which can be referenced without fear of challenge.  
Closed system A closed system has no inputs from or outputs to any external world and hence is totally isolated. Scientific experiments seek to create this so the effects of deliberate causal variation of one thing can be seen without having to worry whether the cause was external. Empiricism

Positivism

Connotation The deep and cultural meaning of a word ('tree' as 'strength', 'oak' as 'Englishness') Linguistics

Roland Barthes

Constructionism We understand the world through internal constructs. Immanuel Kant

 

Conventionalism We tend to conform to conventions, remaining within canonized paradigms. Conventionalism
Denotation The simple meaning of a word ('tree' as a large plant) Linguistics

Roland Barthes

Determinism

 

Causes exist in social relations which are external constraints on individual choices.
A thing has a separate reality which affects its parts. Society thus has its own independent reality.

(vs. Voluntarism)

Positivism

Émile Durkheim

Documentary method To find meaning in the sensory storm, we draw on a stock of stories and meaningful interpretations. Finding a story that fits, we transform the evidence to support the story. The stories themselves also are being constantly renegotiated. Phenomenology
Dogmatic Falsification Assuming that one falsification renders a theory useless. Lakatos
Duhem Thesis An empirical test can never falsify an isolated hypothesis -- it actually challenges the whole theoretical system of which it is a part. Conventionalism

Quine Theses

Empirical regularities Where correlation is found between two variables (not necessarily cause and effect) Positivism
Empiricism Approach that assumes that truth comes only from direct experience. Empiricism
Age of Enlightenment 18th century period when science woke up and bypassed religion as a system of knowledge. Empiricism

The Age of Enlightenment

Ethnomethodology Method whereby real social situations are disturbed to discover reactions and hence internal conceptions and social rules. Phenomenology

Harold Garfinkel

Facts Things that can be proven. Things held as unshakable truth. Not Values. Positivism
Falsification Popper's notion that you can only prove something to be true by failing to falsify it. Positivism
Felcific calculus People choose based on optimum utility Utilitarianism
Feminism Seeks to counterbalance the androcentric bias inherent in much 'scientific' research. Feminism, Positivism
Game Theory Simplification of human behaviour to a series of games that can be modelled, often mathematically.

Includes games of 'chicken', 'Prisoners' dilemma' and the Nash equilibrium.

Closely related to economics.

Idealism

Rational Choice Theory

Morganstern and Von Neumann

Generalizing Extending a concept proven in one area to others areas. Three -izings of research
Hegemony The constant struggle between social forces to create meaning Antonio Gramsci
Hermeneutics Discovery of meaning (originally in Bible). Hermeneutics
Hypothesis Unproven but testable idea. Three -izings of research
Hypothetico-deductive model Popper's definition of science as 'testable' statements. Karl Popper
Idealism We construct our own reality. To study people is to study that construction. Idealism
Ideal type Simple generalization that accepts complexity and its own imperfection. Max Weber
Idiographic

(or Ideographic)

the individualized method of cultural sciences for depicting particular circumstances (like particularism) Neo-Kantianism
Incommensurable Two paradigms are incommensurable in that the criteria of one cannot be used to judge the truth of the other. Conventionalism
Interactionism Meaning is created by interactions between people. eg. the Looking-glass self. Phenomenology
Intersubjectivity By sharing time and space, two actors communicate in a process of understanding. Phenomenology
Intertextuality Meaning is constantly being produced by the relationship between texts. Linguistics
Langue Underlying system of language rules

(see also Parole)

Linguistics

Ferdinand de Saussure

Metaphysical Ideas that cannot be proven. Knowledge beyond the bounds of experience. Positivism
Methodological Individualism 1. Break down phenomena into their smallest parts. 2. Use these to deduce development of more complex phenomena Neo-Kantianism

Carl Menger

Methodological Pluralism No approach is better than another. Multiple views enrich Conventionalism

Relativism

Microeconomics Understanding behaviour of a society through the combination of individual choices and actions. Neo-Kantianism

Carl Menger

Mimetic Exact duplicate. Positivist view that everything can be precisely defined in 'mimetic' statements. Positivism
Naturalism The idea that principles of the natural sciences should be used for social research. Positivism
Nominalism Scientifically valid words have fixed and absolute meanings. To define a word is to fix meaning. The existence of a word does not imply the existence of what it describes. Positivism
Nomothetic constructing generalized models and laws (like universalism) Neo-Kantianism
Normal science Scientific research that supports and does not challenge existing paradigms. Conventionalism
Noumena Things that exist beyond our cognitive experiences. 'Things-in-themselves'. Immanuel Kant
Objective knowledge Knowledge that is separate from what it describes. This independence gives it truth. Positivism
     
Open system Open systems have all parts are interconnected and have no boundaries (thus there is only one open system). Changing one part may thus affect any other part of the system. Relationships and linkages are important. Idealists see the world as an open system and Positivist attempts to create closed systems as futile and misleading. Idealism
Operationalize Putting ideas into action. Translating a hypothesis into a test. Three -izings of research
Paradigm A set of principles, theories and methods that encompass a scientific idea. Conventionalism
Parole The utterances of speech (see also Parole) Linguistics

Ferdinand de Saussure

Phenomenalism The idea that only observable phenomena should be studied. Positivism
Phenomenology Knowledge is discovered through open, unbiased description of experience. Phenomenology
Physicalism As there is one set of physical things to study (including people) then a common language is feasible to describe all experience. Positivism
Positivism Taking a 'positive' approach to research and using scientific approaches. Positivism
Pragmatism Problem-solving that relates to everyday concerns. William James distinguished 'knowledge of' and 'knowledge about'.  
Praxeology An attempt to establish a nomothetic science of human action where value is seen as individual preference and quantitative prediction is inaccurate and should be about the prediction of patterns that we see through 'imaginary constructions'. Idealism

Richard Von Mises

Rational Choice Theory

Quine Thesis An empirical test can never falsify an isolated hypothesis -- it actually challenges the whole knowledge system of which it is a part. Conventionalism
Quine-Duhem thesis You cannot test a single hypothesis on its own, since each is part of linked set of theories. Conventionalism
Rational Choice Theory All social phenomena as sum of individual choices (and nothing else). People make rational, optimal choices. Idealism
Rationalism Truth can be best discovered through reason and rational thought. Rationalism
Realism Things exist, whether or not people are thinking of them. Realism
Scientific laws Generalized laws that are always true and can be used to predict future events. Positivism
Scientism Knowing how to investigate without any understanding of what it is. Haytek
Semiology or Semiotics The science of signs and symbols Linguistics
Situated Knowledge is situated where the context is a part of the meaning, making it difficult to transport or generalize. Things can be historically situated and socially situated. Idealism
Speech Act theory Speaking is acting. We are both stating and doing. Linguistics

John Austin

Subject-Object problem The problem that in trying to study people as separate subjects, we need to be detached and objective. Sometimes (maybe all times) it is difficult to do this. Positivism
Synthetic statements Statements which require evidence to prove them true. e.g. Roses are fragrant. (vs. analytic statements) Positivism
Text A piece of communication. It can be a word, a sentence, a picture, a symbol, etc. Linguistics
Trope A non-literal use of words to convey meaning such as metaphor or metonymy (eg. 'crown' meaning 'king'). Linguistics
Utility, utilitarianism The principle that people make rational choices based on value. Utilitarianism
Values Personal and social rules. Associated with emotions. Not facts. Positivism
Verification Testing explanations to prove truth under various circumstances. aka. Justification and Confirmation (see also Falsification) Positivism
Voluntarism The causes of phenomena are in the actions of individuals and groups.
A thing is the sum of its parts. The economy is sum of firms and households.

(vs. Determinism)

Max Weber

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