Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Wilhelm Windelband on Nomothetic/idiographic - Dictionary of Arguments

Corr I 10
Nomothetic/idiographic/method//psychology/Windelband: Idiographic approaches study individuals, while nomothetic approaches seek generalizations and make comparisons based on the study of many people. This distinction, proposed by the German philosopher Wilhelm Windelband in 1892(1), was discussed by American personality psychologist Gordon Allport (1937)(2), who argued that idiographic traits that resided within individuals were the ‘real’ causes within personality. Windelband’s idiographic approach was what he called a ‘historical science’ in that it emphasized the history of one person (Maher and Gottesman 2005)(3). This approach requires considerable investigation of one person and so is suitable to psychohistorical investigation and to clinical applications.
Cloninger: A. Idiographic approaches produce understanding and offer intervention insights for particular individuals, whether through psychotherapy or behaviour modification. They are particularly useful for studying personality dynamics, that is, how motivated processes occur over time in an individual.
Corr I 11
B. Nomothetic approaches, such as the Five-Factor Model, provide evidence for generality of concepts across the populations studied and are suited for studying individual differences, that is, identifying how one person compares with others. Nomothetic research is more often quantitative, expressed in mathematical measures, but some idiographic research (including behaviour modification reports and Cattell’s P-technique) goes beyond qualitative descriptions to include quantitative counts of behaviour.


1. Cf. Windelband, Wilhelm: Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft, 3. Auflage. Straßburg: Heitz 1904
2. Allport, G. W. 1937. Personality: a psychological interpretation. New York: Holt
3. Maher, B. A. and Gottesman, I. I. 2005. Deconstructing, reconstructing, preserving Paul E. Meehl’s legacy of construct validity, Psychological Assessment 17: 415–22


Susan Cloninger, “Conceptual issues in personality theory”, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Windelband I
W. Windelband
Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie Tübingen 1993

Corr I
Philip J. Corr
Gerald Matthews
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009

Corr II
Philip J. Corr (Ed.)
Personality and Individual Differences - Revisiting the classical studies Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne 2018


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