This essay discusses the three individual ‘visions’ of social psychology and the usefulness in understanding Leonard L. a 46-year sufferer of a special form of Parkinson’s disease. This illness had left him completely speechless and without voluntarily motion. With the administration of L-Dopa, a miracle temporary cure, allowed Leonard a brief period of re-awakening, before he was led on a path of self-destruction by the irreversible effects of that experience. I shall draw viewpoints of each vision and relate them to the written account of Leonard, through Dr Sacks perspective.
The Experimental social psychology vision is a scientific approach reliant on objective discovery and control, though an intellectually rigorous methodology. It is purely scientific, qualified through objective actions, which assuages that social behaviour must be quantified through observable, describable and measurable events. Events driven by causation, that provoke an effect.
Leonard was physically disabled not mentally disabled but still placed in an institution and diagnosed using a fixed medical model. Although his prognosis was a rare form of Parkinsons disease incurred as a result of having had sleeping sickness, the hospital treat Leonard as if he had a psychiatric illness and there appeared to be no strategy for his care.
This nomothetic approach tries to establish the fundamental cause-effect laws that underlie human social behaviour. It looks for causation; not simply correlation. (Looks for the direct effects of one variable on another — rather than a mere relationship between/among variables. McGhee,P (1996) Causal relationships though, can only be discovered through carefully controlled empirical experiments through a sterile environment.
Once L-Dopa was administered at 5.0gm a day, there was a conversion, the majority of his higher faculties returned; rigidity vanished, voluntary movement and his speech returned. A month later, trouble was observed, sadly it was the side effects of the drug, which was having an adverse effect on Leonard’s behaviour. Leonard remained in the sterile confined reality of the institution where he could be monitored, in a hope that he may recover. Did the hospital give the drug chance to work? A month doesn’t seem a long time; perhaps the hospital should have looked at other causes for regression, other than side effects.
With a clear testable hypothesis and constraining laws it is easier to discuss social psychology and make definite progress. The need for evidence based models to understand social psychology is the centralized issue to develop general applicable laws, regarding human behaviour that will provide knowledge and recognized terms of reference to those who wish to apply it.
Leonard tried to regain control by writing an autobiography. Finally, the institution disapproved of Leonards ravening libido and extrovert behaviour and removed him to a punishment cell, so as to regain their own control. Leonard wasn’t ill, so why treat him like a psychiatric patient and lock him in a cell.
In counter-argument, not all results will be accurate and could and will reflect bias. General Models only map certain types of behaviour and the experimental vision is too generalized. So in trying to fit a general model (derived from a small sample in the first place) to a complex behaviour like Leonards, within the sterile artificial environment could desensitize a persons needs and in some extreme cases can de-humanize people, purely as objects.
From the outset Leonard was treat like an object and the institution could be seen as such a sterile environment. The institution was not sensitive to his needs, after all he had just missed out on 20 years of his life. The argument proposes that the experimental vision is too general and trying to apply one specific hypothesis to wide-ranging behaviours, may not always be appropriate.
The experiential social psychology vision is one that draws on meanings and interpretation from experience. Of what is attributed by a person’s action and of those of others. Behaviour needs to be interpreted to make sense; it stresses subjectivity, significance and people’s introspections, it cannot be objectively observed. It bears on the actualities of lived experience and takes our own personal worlds as its starting point.
Leonard compares his life as being in a cage, it is not the institution that is a cage but his useless body, as his spirit grapples to be free from his own body.
Leonard was condemned to stay in that condition until an opportunity came along such as the administering of L-Dopa. We are our own agents for the pursuance of change our own selves and of those around the world. Our agency is important social psychology in this vision is more concerned with what we may become than what we are, a moral science.
It recognizes us as embodied beings and that biological and unconscious influences share an impact. We need to look at, and try to become aware of, the interplay of these varied influences in our reflexive experience of ourselves.
Leonard for all his brilliance is subject to the indignities and control that often go with the status of patient. However we must learn from the biology and social sciences that any insights we may glean, must be derived form lived in actual experience.
This vision recognizes that no two people are the same and the existential issues of life, capacity for choice and the fixed belief that we will all die one day. This vision focuses on common experiences that make us human; emotions, joy, pain, desire, frustration and death any of these overrides surface differences such as race, creed and class.
True Leonard did fall into regression after 1 month on L-Dopa it is far easier to hide behind the veil of science and say the drug failed, or that his illness had returned, the fact could be that Leonard may not have been able to cope with losing 2 decades of his life and all his wants and needs had been compressed into the period since his awakening.
Experiential social psychology is a critically and politically informed science and helps us to make sense of our conscious experience of relationships and our own personal being and to provide a basis for enhancing the ways in which we experience and live our lives. Stevens,R. (1996)
In counter-argument subjective interpretations are too ambiguous and untestable to use as a core for the study of human behaviour. There is also a danger of being over specific and having no terms of reference to treat that person, how can you map a model for that person’s behaviour if you have nothing to relate it to, you have to have a starting point. There is no sense of coherent progression, as each expert opinion will differ. The second issue is one of ecological validity; if the study is too realistic then control can be lost (Zimbardos prison experiment). In real situations there is no chance to debrief participants and without a testable hypothesis there seems no purpose to the study.
The critical vision argues that we are not isolated we need to take into account relationships and social context. Looking not just at individuals or at interactions with others, but relationships over time, family life, communities and the history of society. A broad canvas not narrow, introspection does not occur in a vacuum. A need to understand within a social and collective basis and a role in social interaction. Wetherell,M (1996)
Leonard despite almost finishing a PhD thesis before he became physically disabled (not mentally) was put into an institution and treated using a restrictive memory model. Why did this happen? Our own Stephen Hawkings a brilliant man with a severe disability wasn’t cast into an institution, so why was Leonard. If he had more wealth/power or social standing, would things have been different?
People are active and make choices – but these choices and autonomy need to be set in context as human choices are structured and guided by the social materials available and our different positions in society. A moral as well as a political science but should not imitate a natural science as its research is rarely neutral, therefore the methods, research, aims and theories should reflect the particular nature of social action and have social relevance.
Why did the institution have such a sterile viewpoint on sex and Leonards impulses, surely as a person who has missed 20 years of the life sex is a normal instinct to experience. The brothel service request isn’t so outrageous it was just the context of the setting and the different meanings that were attached. After all if the patients were de-hydrated they would surely be given fluids.
Social influences are pervasive and inescapable so to work with the fluidity, openness and ambiguities of social life rather than restraining it through experimental control. Groups/collectivises over time are often ignored in experiments instead looking at relationships with maybe one other person.
This vision emphasises the social influences on Leonard, after all his social circumstances are dictated by his welfare (and both care, and frustrate him) He couldn’t be viewed in isolation from his social context. This vision would consider examining his complex social relationships with his carers.and perhaps by gaining some understanding could be useful in improving the care provided
The counter argument is that this approach is too abstract without agreement on evaluative criteria and commonality in method there can be no progress. We need to maintain a degree of control over our studies and that this vision has no scientific respectability. It is also difficult to relate to the world and ourselves as we experience it.
In conclusion, not one vision is able to give us a complete understanding of Leonard. However, we can see that each vision contributes an understanding of what makes Leonard a person and each is complementary. There clearly is a place for all three visions however, critical vision is the easiest to apply as for the past 20 years he has been a product of an institution that may not have facilitated his complex needs.