Idiographic and Nomothetic Approach.

The Idiographic and Nomothetic approach tackle Personality Psychology from opposing angles. Personality psychologists study something that is supposedly unique to each of us, yet also something we all have

Definitions of idiographic and nomothetic approach of personality.

An idiographic approach involves the thorough, intensive study of a single person or case in order to obtain an in-depth understanding of that person or case. As contrasted, with a study of the universal aspects of groups of people or cases. And a nomothetic approach involves the study of groups of people or cases for the purpose of discovering those general and universally valid laws or principles that characterize the average person or case.

Idiographic approach.

The idiographic approach focusses on the individual insights and feelings. It collects qualitative data in order to gain in-depth and unique details on individuals rather than the numerical data. Idios= ‘private’ or ‘personal’ in ancient Greek; this approach assumes that humans are unique.

There are different types of methods to study the idiographic approach. Qualitative methods and Case study method

Qualitative methods are best to study the idiographic approach. Whereas, Case study method will provide a more complete and global understanding of the individual who should be studied using flexible, long term and detailed procedures in order to put them in a ‘class of their own’.

Freud (1909) studied the clinical case study method. He interviewed patients over a long period of time. He used unstructured techniques such as free association. It is a mental process by which one word or image may spontaneously suggest another without any necessary logical connection. He wrote his notes at the end of the day. So that it allows a more free and natural expression of the patients’ thoughts and feelings.

However, Humanistic psychologists also use the idiographic approach because they believe that a person’s subjective experience is more important to gain an understanding of human than a universal generalization.

Allport (1961) is another who used the idiographic approach and even came up with the term. He believed that the idiographic approach can tell us more about human behavior and that personality tests that provide quantitative data are not as insightful.

Nomothetic approach.

The approach of investigating large groups of people at once to collect quantitate research in order to find general laws of behavior that apply to everyone.
Nomos= laws in ancient Greek.

This approach assumes that an individual is a complex combination of many universal laws. It is best to study people on a large scale.

They aim to generate explanations of behavior that can be universal and generalized to entire populations, they argue that qualitative data doesn’t provide such generalizations.

This method uses quantitative experimental methods to identify the universal laws governing behavior. Here, the individual will be classified with others and measured as a score upon a dimension, or be a statistic supporting a general principal.

For example, the biological approach seeks universal explanations for behavior, and this can lead to drug therapies that can be used for all individuals. The research into fight or flight suggested that it was a universal response to stress. However, research by Taylor suggested otherwise (women have a ‘tend and befriend‘ response). This shows, how universal explanations ignore the differences that the idiographic approach focus on.

Eysenck, a direct contrast to Allport, also studied personality but used the nomothetic approach. He tested a large group of people and used their data to divide them into personality types such as ‘introverted-neurotic‘ or ‘extroverted-neurotic‘. This method allows personality to be easily and quickly sorted into a universal personality test.

Eysenck’s personality wheel


Cardwell, M., Flanagan, C. (2016) Psychology A level The Complete Companion Student Book fourth edition. Published by Oxford University Press, United Kingdom.

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