Critical Review Essay History Of Psychology

Critical review of LaPiere’s “Attitudes vs. Actions” article Summary In Richard T LaPiere’s article “Attitudes VS Actions” (1934), he investigated whether the prejudicial attitudes of Americans, during the 1930s, towards the Chinese would symbolise or match their response when faced with a Chinese individual. La Piere’s study involved a 2 year observation of a young Chinese couple in which they visited 66 hotels and 128 restaurants. However, whilst on this voyage, LaPiere surreptitiously kept detailed records of the responses given by hotel owners, hotel clerks and other employees within the establishments visited. The findings showed that LaPiere and his two Chinese companions were refused service only once out of the 251 establishments visited. He concluded that the discriminatory attitudes of the Americans towards the Chinese were due to clothing and cleanliness rather than race and that surveys are not a suitable method for examining the link between attitudes and behaviour. Review The debate of whether attitudes influence behaviour has been an important phenomenon for social psychologists for decades. A widely recognised definition would come from Gordon Allport (1935). According to him “An attitude is a mental and neural state of readiness, organised through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related”. Many social psychologists claim that if scientists are to predict or change behaviour, then they must change the underlying attitudes (Dollard, 1949; Krech & Crutchfield, 1948; Kutner, Wilkins & Yarrow, 1970; Lewin, 1999). However, as LaPiere’s study on prejudicial attitudes has shown, the attitude-behaviour relationship is much more complex. The 1930s were a time of instability and tension due to the Depression and immigration of different races which had influenced the prejudices of many Americans. LaPiere’s prior comparative research of English and French attitudes towards dark skinned peoples during 1927 was a study which sparked his interest in whether a verbal response would match its subsequent behaviour. The visit of a small Californian hotel (which had a reputation of prejudice towards Orientals) was the situation which influenced LaPiere’s interest in examining social attitudes. When phoned by LaPiere, the hotel had said “No” to the question of whether they would allow a Chinese gentleman in their establishment, even though that same hotel had accommodated LaPiere and his Chinese companions two months earlier. The methods used were a questionnaire and a 2 year covert observation as LaPiere kept his true intentions from the Chinese couple and the US establishments visited a secret, and used a range of ruses so he could secretly observe the interactions between the Chinese couple and the 251 US establishments visited. The findings showed that LaPiere and his two Chinese companions were refused service only once out of the 251 establishments visited. In addition, LaPiere sent out a questionnaire 6 months later to the establishments visited, which included the question “Will you accept members of the Chinese race as guests in your establishment?” and found that out of the 128 (81 restaurants and 47 hotels) replies, 92% of the establishments replied “No”. LaPiere also used the same questionnaire where he replaced the word “Chinese” with other nationalities such as French, German etc; the findings showed that 91% of the US establishments replied “No”. Since LaPiere’s research was an observation, this means that he’s study has ecological validity as there was no experimental control. However, the use of observation could also fall prone to human subjectivity as LaPiere could have kept records or written down instances which he may have assumed rather than occurred. Nonetheless, the use of somewhat covert observation would have also minimised observer effects, therefore strengthening his research, as participants (Chinese couple, hotel clerks and motel owners etc.) would have acted normally. This therefore supplements LaPiere’s study in terms of validity. The ethical integrity of the whole study could also come into question because LaPiere deceived the Chinese couple and US establishments into believing he were a regular tourist, when actually a psychologist secretly taking notes. The lack of informed consent in LaPiere’s study could also be an issue worthy to deem this piece of research as unethical if replicated in modern society. In addition, LaPiere’s research would be difficult for current psychologists to replicate as there are now a range of anti-discrimination acts which prevent US establishments and other countries from rejecting potential customers on the basis of race. Another criticism of LaPiere’s study would be the lack of operationalised terms. For example, he described the Chinese couple as being “skilful smilers” which is too ambiguous to be included in a scientific article, as LaPiere’s subjectivity may have influenced him to label the couple as “skilful smilers”. The sample used was an appropriate one as he wanted to investigate the prejudicial attitudes of Americans’ towards those of Chinese descent, which strengthens his research because he highlighted a popular phenomenon amongst the American population during the early 20 century which is still prominent in contemporary social psychology. However, it can be questioned whether the characteristics of such a small sample (Chinese couple) would be representative of the whole population. What many psychologists tend to forget about LaPiere’s influential study was that he was also trying to highlight that questionnaires (or other quantitative methods) may be a cheap and inexpensive method, but are less effective in measuring whether an individual will actually act out their attitudes. For example, Kutner, Wilkins and Yarrow (1952) conducted a similar observation where two white women entered 11 US restaurants, quickly followed by a Negro woman. 17 days later, letters were sent to the establishments visited which asked whether they would accept Negroes in their establishments; none of the establishments replied. However, when the letters were sent to the establishments again, without the inclusion of racial groups, 10 of the establishments accepted the reservations. In addition, many other psychologists’ state that the results from attitude measurements are just artefact’s, and question whether these measurements can actually predict behaviour (Tittle and Hill, 1970). However, Jacobson found that “it was possible to predict attitudes only where people’s prior attitudes were extreme”. Nonetheless, the use of questionnaires to gauge the distance between attitudes and behaviour could give rise to social desirability bias, whereby participants would give responses which they believe to be desired by society rather than their actual attitudes. This could therefore affect the validity of such methods. Wicker (1969) questions whether there will ever be a reliable way of testing the link between attitudes and behaviour. Other researchers criticise LaPiere’s depreciation of questionnaires measuring the relationship between attitudes and behaviour. For example, Psychologists have found a significant correlation between the extent of delinquency admitted on a self-report and the degree of delinquency shown on a polygraph test (Clark Tifft 1966). The use of triangulation strengthens his research as it gave him the richness of qualitative data from his covert observation as well as the providing accurate numerical data from his questionnaire. LaPiere argued that by combining direct observation with questionnaires, psychologists can see whether the answers they receive from people match their actions in a similar situation. LaPiere’s study on attitudes and behaviour has influenced many theories. For example, psychologists have proposed that the relationship between attitude and behaviour is not based on a singular attitude influencing behaviour, but rather a range of relevant attitudes (Multiple Attitudes). In relation to LaPiere’s study, the prejudicial attitudes of Americans towards those of Chinese decent would not only be influenced by race, but by other relevant attitudes such as social class and by the ability of the Chinese couple to speak in “unaccented English”. Other researchers which were influenced by LaPiere’s study would include Erlich and Wicker’s (1969) investigation of meditational factors that affect attitude-behaviour consistency. Other researchers which were influenced by LaPiere’s study would include Fishbein and Azjen (1975), who claim that the level specificity should be the same for both attitudes and behaviours. Supporting evidence would come from Weigel et al (1976), who found that people were more likely to volunteer to more specific ideas such as ’support Sierra Club’ rather than general ones such as ’Protecting the environment’. An alternative explanation for LaPiere’s results would come from Crosby et al (1980), who argue prejudicial attitudes tend to be prevented or remain hidden when in a “normative environment”. This could explain why the majority of the US establishments visited were more hospitable towards LaPiere and his Chinese companions, as the situation would have demanded them to act in a respectable manner towards guests (reference from book). Conclusion LaPiere’s research has highlighted the importance of whether questionnaires can measure the link between attitudes and behaviour, and whether attitudes actually depict behaviour; a phenomenon which is still a hot topic among many social psychologists today. This therefore shows the robustness and influence of LaPiere’s research on modern social psychology. However, LaPiere’s study demonstrated that there is a major inconsistency between attitudes and behaviour; which could lead to ethnic minorities becoming more tentative towards western establishments when making reservations. Reference list Robert A. Baron, Nylar R, Branscombe & Donn Byrne, “SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY”, 12th Edition pp.149 Richard T LaPiere 2010, “Attitudes vs Actions”, Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association, Michael W Firmin, “The seminal contribution of Richard LaPiere’s attitudes vs actions (1934) research study”. Christopher Herrera, “Ethics and the rhetorical context of human research”, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Montclair state University, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043, USA PP.1. Edited by Joanne R smith & S Alexander Iaslam “Social Psychology revisiting the Classic studies”. First published 2012 “JOURNAL OF SOCIAL ISSUES”, Volume 25, Number 4, 1969. Allan W. Wicker (1969), “Attitudes versus Actions: The Relationship of verbal and overt behavioural responses to Attitude Objects”. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Michael A. Hogg & Joel Cooper (2003), “The SAGE Handbook of Social Psychology, concise student edition”, pp. 345. Dennis Howitt, Michael Billing, Duncan Cramer, Derek Edwards, Bromley knivetion, Jonathan Potter & Alan Radley (1989), “Social Psychology, Conflicts and Continuations”, pp. 125 Miles Hewstone, Anthony S.R Manstead & Wolfgang Stroebe (1997), “The Blackwell Reader in Social Psychology”, pp.241. Richard T. LaPiere “Race Prejudice: France and England”, Vol.7 No.1 (Sep, 1928) published by Oxford University Press. Harris Chaiklin (2011), “Attitudes, Behaviour and Social Practice”, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, pp. 32 Bibliography Harris Chaiklin, “Attitudes, Behaviour, and social Practice”, published by University of Maryland school of social work. Roger Jowell (1942), “British social attitudes. The 17th report: Focusing on diversity”, National Centre for Social Research London: SAGE 2000. J. Richard Eiser (1986), “Social Psychology: Attitudes, Cognition and Social Behaviour”, published by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. Jonathan Potter & Margaret Wetherell (1987), “Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond Attitudes and Behaviour. Martin Bulmer, Julie Gibbs and Laura Hyman (2010) “Social Measurement Through Social Surveys: An applied Approach”. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited. Kirk, R B, “Journal of the American Dietetic Association (1959), Vol.35 Keith Gibbins, “Nature” (1969), Vol.222 (5191) Barnes. C, “Dance Magazine” (2007), Vol.81 (3) Bastow. J, “Physiotherapy (1952). Vol.38 Eberhart, Richard “Poetry” (1956), Vol.88 (5) Boynton, A & Oxlad, M, “Melanoma and its relationship with solarium use Health knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of young women”, Journal Of Health Psychology, (2011) Vol.16 (6).


Essay Writing Guide for Psychology Students

Saul McLeod published 2014

Before you write your essay it's important to analyse the task and understand exactly what the essay question is asking. It is possible your lecturer will give you some advice - pay attention to this as it will help you plan your answer.

Next conduct preliminary reading based on your lecture notes. At this stage it's not crucial to have a robust understanding of key theories or studies, but you should at least have a general 'gist' of the literature.

After reading, plan a response to the task. This plan could be in the form of a mind map, a summary table, or by writing a core statement (which encompass the entire argument of your essay in just a few sentences).

After writing your plan conduct supplementary reading and refine your plan and make it more detailed.

It is tempting to skip these preliminary steps and just write the first draft while reading at the same time. However, reading and planning will make the essay writing process easier, quicker, and ensure a higher quality essay is produced.

Now let us look at what constitutes a good essay in psychology. There are a number of important features.

  1. A Global Structure - structure the material in a way that allows for a logical sequence of ideas. Each paragraph / statement should follow sensibly from its predecessor. The essay should 'flow'. The introduction, main body and conclusion should all be linked.
  2. Each paragraph should comprise a main theme which are illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence).

  3. Knowledge and Understanding - recognise, recall and show understanding on a range of scientific material that accurately reflects the main theoretical perspectives.
  4. Critical Evaluation - arguments should be supported by appropriate evidence and/or theory from the literature. Evidence of independent thinking, insight and evaluation of the evidence.
  5. Quality of Written Communication - writing clearly and succinctly with appropriate use of paragraphs, spelling and grammar. All sources referenced accurately and in line with APA guidelines.

In the main body of the essay every paragraph should demonstrate both knowledge and critical evaluation.

There should also be an appropriate balance between these two essay components. Try to aim for about a 60/40 split if possible. Most students make the mistake of writing too much knowledge and not enough evaluation (which is the difficult bit).

It is best to structure your essay according to key themes. Themes are illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence). Choose relevant points only, ones that most reveal the theme or help to make a convincing and interesting argument.

Knowledge and Understanding

Remember that an essay is simply a discussion / argument on paper. Don't make the mistake of writing all the information you know regarding a particular topic.

You need to be concise, and clearly articulate your argument. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences.

Each paragraph should have a purpose / theme, and make a number of points - which need to be support by high quality evidence. Be clear why each point is is relevant to the argument. It would be useful at the beginning of each paragraph if you explicitly outlined the theme being discussed (.e.g. cognitive development, social development etc.).

Try not to overuse quotations in your essays. It is more appropriate to use original content to demonstrate your understanding.

Psychology is a science so you must support your ideas with evidence (not your own personal opinion). If you are discussing a theory or research study make sure you cite the source of the information.

Note this is not the author of a textbook you have read - but the original source / author(s) of the theory or research study.

For example:

Bowlby (1951) claimed that mothering is almost useless if delayed until after two and a half to three years and, for most children, if delayed till after 12 months, i.e. there is a critical period.


Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fullfil the next one, and so on.

As a general rule make sure there is at least one citation (i.e. name of psychologist and date of publication) in each paragraph.

Remember to answer the essay question. Underline the key words in the essay title. Don't make the mistake of simply writing everything you know of a particular topic, be selective. Each paragraph in your essay should contribute to answering the essay question.

Critical Evaluation

In simple terms this means outlining the strengths and limitations of a theory or research study.

There are many ways you can critically evaluate:

  • Methodological evaluation of research -

    Is the study valid / reliable? Is the sample biased or can we generalize the findings to other populations? What are the strengths and limitations of the method used and data obtained?

  • Be careful to ensure that any methodological criticisms are justified and not trite. Rather than hunting for weaknesses in every study; only highlight limitations which make you doubt the conclusions that the authors have drawn – e.g. where an alternative explanation might be equally likely because something hasn’t been adequately controlled.

  • Compare or contrast different theories -

    Outline how the theories are similar and how they differ. This could be two (or more) theories of personality / memory / child development etc. Also try to communicate the value of the theory / study.
  • Debates or perspectives -

    Refer to debates such as nature or nurture, reductionism vs. holism or the perspectives in psychology. For example, would they agree or disagree with a theory or the findings of the study?

  • What are the ethical issues of the research? -

    Does a study involve ethical issues such as deception, privacy, psychological and physical harm.
  • Gender bias -

    If research is biased towards men or women it does not provide a clear view of the behavior that has been studied. A dominantly male perspective is known as an androcentric bias.

  • Cultural bias -

    Is the theory / study ethnocentric? Psychology is predominantly a white, Euro-American enterprise. In some texts, over 90% of studies have US participants, who are predominantly white and middle class. Does the theory or study being discussed judge other cultures by Western standards?
  • Animal Research -

    This raises the issue of whether it’s morally and/or scientifically right to use animals. The main criterion is that benefits must outweigh costs. But benefits are almost always to humans and costs to animals.

    Animal research also raises the issue of extrapolation. Can we generalize from studies on animals to humans as their anatomy & physiology is different from humans?

The PEC System

It is very important to elaborate on your evaluation. Don't just write a shopping list of brief (one or two sentence) evaluation points. Instead make sure you expand on your points, remember, quality of evaluation is most important than quantity.

When you are writing an evaluation paragraph use the PEC system.

  • Make your Point.

  • Explain how and why the point is relevant.

  • Discuss the Consequences / implications of the theory or study. Are they positive or negative?

For Example

    (Point) It is argued that psychoanalytic therapy is only of benefit to an articulate, intelligent, affluent minority.

    (Explain) Because psychoanalytic therapy involves talking and gaining insight, and is costly and time-consuming, it is argued that it is only of benefit to an articulate, intelligent, affluent minority. Evidence suggests psychoanalytic therapy works best if the client is motivated and has a positive attitude.

    (Consequences) A depressed client’s apathy, flat emotional state and lack of motivation limit the appropriateness of psychoanalytic therapy for depression. Furthermore, the levels of dependency of depressed clients mean that transference is more likely to develop.

Using Research Studies in your Essays

Research studies can either be knowledge or evaluation.

  • If you refer to the procedures and findings of a study, this shows knowledge and understanding.
  • If you comment on what the studies shows, and what it supports and challenges about the theory in question, this shows evaluation.

Writing an Introduction

It is often best to write your introduction when you have finished the main body of the essay, so that you have a good understanding to the topic area.

If there is a word count for your essay try to devote 10% of this to your introduction.

Ideally the introduction should;

  1. Identify the subject of the essay and define the key terms.

  2. Highlight the major issues which “lie behind” the question. Let the reader know how you will focus your essay by identifying the main themes to be discussed.

  3. “Signpost” the essay’s key argument, (and, if possible, how this argument is structured).

Introductions are very important as first impressions count and they can create a halo effect in the mind of the lecturer grading your essay. If you start off well then you are more likely to be forgiven for the odd mistake later one.

Writing a Conclusion

So many students either forget to write a conclusion or fail to give it the attention it deserves. If there is a word count for your essay try to devote 10% of this to your conclusion.

Ideally the conclusion should summarize the key themes / arguments of your essay. State the take home message – don’t sit on the fence, instead weigh up the evidence presented in the essay and make a decision which side of the argument has more support.

Also, you might like to suggest what future research may need to be conducted and why (read the discussion section of journal articles for this).

Don't include new information / arguments (only information discussed in the main body of the essay).

If you are unsure of what to write read the essay question and answer it in one paragraph.

Points that unite or embrace several themes can be used to great effect as part of your conclusion.

The Importance of Flow

Obviously, what you write is important, but how you communicate your ideas / arguments has a significant influence on your overall grade. Most students may have similar information / content in their essays, but the better students communicate this information concisely and articulately.

When you have finished the first draft of your essay you must check if it 'flows'. This is an important feature of quality of communication (along with spelling and grammar).

This means that the paragraphs follow a logical order (like the chapters in a novel). Have a global structure with themes arranged in a way that allows for a logical sequence of ideas. You might want to rearrange (cut and paste) paragraphs to a different position in your essay if they don't appear to fit in with the essay structure.

To improve the flow of your essay make sure the last sentence of one paragraph links to first sentence of the next paragraph. This will help the essay flow and make it easier to read.

Finally, only repeat citations when it is unclear which study / theory you are discussing. Repeating citations unnecessarily disrupts the flow of an essay.


The reference section is the list of all the sources cited in the essay (in alphabetical order). It is not a bibliography (a list of the books you used).

In simple terms every time you cite/refer to a name (and date) of a psychologist you need to reference the original source of the information.

If you have been using textbooks this is easy as the references are usually at the back of the book and you can just copy them down. If you have been using websites then you may have a problem as they might not provide a reference section for you to copy.

References need to be set out APA style:


Author, A. A. (year). Title of work. Location: Publisher.

Journal Articles

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Article title. Journal Title, volume number(issue number), page numbers

A simple way to write your reference section is use Google scholar. Just type the name and date of the psychologist in the search box and click on the 'cite' link.

Next, copy and paste the APA reference into the reference section of your essay.

Once again remember that references need to be in alphabetical order according to surname.

Further Information

Writing Skills for Psychologists

Study Skills

Essay Writing Guide

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2014). Essay writing guide for psychology students. Retrieved from

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