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Psychology Perspectives

Psychology Perspectives

By Saul McLeod, updated 2013


There are various approaches in contemporary psychology. 

An approach is a perspective (i.e., view) that involves certain assumptions (i.e., beliefs) about human behaviour: the way they function, which aspects of them are worthy of study and what research methods are appropriate for undertaking this study.

There may be several different theories within an approach, but they all share these common assumptions.

365体育足球比分网You may wonder why there are so many different psychology perspectives and whether one approach is correct and others wrong.

Most psychologists would agree that no one perspective is correct, although in the past, in the early days of psychology, the behaviourist would have said their perspective was the only truly scientific one.

Each perspective has its strengths and weaknesses, and brings something different to our understanding of human behaviour.  For this reason, it is important that psychology does have different perspectives on the understanding and study of human and animal behaviour.

365体育足球比分网Below is a summary of the six main psychological approaches (sometimes called perspectives) in psychology.


Behaviourist Perspective

If your layperson's idea of psychology has always been about people in laboratories wearing white coats and watching hapless rats try to negotiate mazes in order to get to their dinner, then you are probably thinking about behavioural psychology.

Skinner Box illustration operant conditioning

Behaviorism is different from most other approaches because they view people (and animals) as controlled by their environment and specifically that we are the result of what we have learned from our environment. Behaviorism is concerned with how environmental factors (called stimuli) affect observable behaviour (called the response).

The behaviourist approach proposes two main processes whereby people learn from their environment: namely classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning involves learning by association, and operant conditioning involves learning from the consequences of behaviour.

Classical conditioning (CC) was studied by the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov. Though looking into natural reflexes and neutral stimuli he managed to condition dogs to salivate to the sound of a bell through repeated associated with the sound of the bell and food.

The principles of CC have been applied in many therapies. These include systematic desensitization365体育足球比分网 for phobias (step-by-step exposed to a feared stimulus at once) and aversion therapy.

B.F. Skinner investigated operant conditioning 365体育足球比分网of voluntary and involuntary behaviour. Skinner felt that some behaviour could be explained by the person's motive. Therefore behaviour occurs for a reason, and the three main behaviour shaping techniques are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment.

Behaviorism also believes in scientific methodology (e.g., controlled experiments), and that only observable behaviour should be studied because this can be objectively measured. Behaviorism rejects the idea that people have free will, and believes that the environment determines all behaviour. Behaviorism is the scientific study of observable behaviour working on the basis that behaviour can be reduced to learned S-R (Stimulus-Response) units.

365体育足球比分网Behaviorism has been criticized in the way it under-estimates the complexity of human behaviour. Many studies used animals which are hard to generalize to humans, and it cannot explain, for example, the speed in which we pick up language. There must be biological factors involved.


Psychodynamic Perspective

Who hasn't heard of Sigmund Freud365体育足球比分网? So many expressions of our daily life come from Freud's theories of psychoanalysis - subconscious, denial, repression and anal personality to name only a few.

freud's couch

Freud believes that events in our childhood can have a significant impact on our behaviour as adults. He also believed that people have little free will to make choices in life. Instead, our behaviour is determined by the unconscious mind and childhood experiences.

Freud’s psychoanalysis is both a theory and therapy. It is the original psychodynamic theory and inspired psychologists such as Jung and Erikson365体育足球比分网 to develop their own psychodynamic theories. Freud’s work is vast, and he has contributed greatly to psychology as a discipline.

Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, explained the human mind as like an iceberg, with only a small amount of it being visible, that is our observable behaviour, but it is the unconscious, submerged mind that has the most, underlying influence on our behaviour. Freud used three main methods of accessing the unconscious mind: free association, dream analysis and slips of the tongue. 

He believed that the unconscious mind consisted of three components: the 'id' the 'ego' and the 'superego.'  The 'id' contains two main instincts: 'Eros', which is the life instinct, which involves self-preservation and sex which is fuelled by the 'libido' energy force. 'Thanatos' is the death instinct, whose energies, because they are less powerful than those of 'Eros' are channeled away from ourselves and into aggression towards others.

The 'id' and the 'superego' are constantly in conflict with each other, and the 'ego' tries to resolve the discord. If this conflict is not resolved, we tend to use defense mechanisms to reduce our anxiety. Psychoanalysis attempts to help patients resolve their inner conflicts.

An aspect of psychoanalysis is Freud's theory of psychosexual development365体育足球比分网. It shows how early experiences affect adult personality. Stimulation of different areas of the body is important as the child progresses through the important developmental stages. Too much or too little can have bad consequences later.

The most important stage is the phallic stage where the focus of the libido is on the genitals.  During this stage little boys experience the 'Oedipus complex,' and little girls experience the 'Electra complex.' These complexes result in children identifying with their same-sex parent, which enables them to learn sex-appropriate behaviour and a moral code of conduct.

However, it has been criticized in the way that it over emphasizes the importance of sexuality and under emphasized of the role of social relationships. The theory is not scientific, and can't be proved as it is circular. Nevertheless, psychoanalysis has been greatly contributory to psychology in that it has encouraged many modern theorists to modify it for the better, using its basic principles, but eliminating its major flaws.


Humanism

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the study of the whole person (know as holism).  Humanistic psychologists look at human behaviour, not only through the eyes of the observer, but through the eyes of the person doing the behaving.

Humanistic psychologists believe that an individual's behaviour is connected to his inner feelings and self-image365体育足球比分网. The humanistic perspective centers on the view that each person is unique and individual, and has the free will to change at any time in his or her lives.

365体育足球比分网The humanistic perspective suggests that we are each responsible for our own happiness and well-being as humans. We have the innate (i.e., inborn) capacity for self-actualization, which is our unique desire to achieve our highest potential as people.

365体育足球比分网 Because of this focus on the person and his or her personal experiences and subjective perception of the world the humanists regarded scientific methods as inappropriate for studying behaviour.

Two of the most influential and enduring theories in humanistic psychology that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s are those of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.


Cognitive Psychology

cognitive psychology sub-topics

Psychology was institutionalized as a science in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt, who found the first psychological laboratory.

His initiative was soon followed by other European and American Universities. These early laboratories, through experiments, explored areas such as memory and sensory perception, both of which Wundt believed to be closely related to physiological processes in the brain. The whole movement had evolved from the early philosophers, such as Aristotle and Plato. Today this approach is known as cognitive psychology.

Cognitive Psychology revolves around the notion that if we want to know what makes people tick then the way to do it is to figure out what processes are actually going on in their minds. In other words, psychologists from this perspective study cognition which is ‘the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired.’

The cognitive perspective is concerned with “mental” functions such as memory, perception, attention, etc. It views people as being similar to computers in the way we process information (e.g., input-process-output). For example, both human brains and computers process information, store data and have input an output procedure.

This had led cognitive psychologists to explain that memory comprises of three stages: encoding (where information is received and attended to), storage (where the information is retained) and retrieval (where the information is recalled).

It is an extremely scientific approach and typically uses lab experiments to study human behaviour. The cognitive approach has many applications including cognitive therapy and eyewitness testimony.


Biological Psychology

parts of the brain image

We can thank Charles Darwin (1859) for demonstrating the idea that genetics and evolution play a role in influencing human behaviour through natural selection.

Theorists in the biological perspective who study behavioural genomics consider how genes affect behaviour. Now that the human genome is mapped, perhaps, we will someday understand more precisely how behaviour is affected by the DNA we inherit. Biological factors such as chromosomes, hormones and the brain all have a significant influence on human behaviour, for example, gender.

The biological approach believes that most behaviour is inherited and has an adaptive (or evolutionary) function. For example, in the weeks immediately after the birth of a child, levels of testosterone in fathers drop by more than 30 per cent. This has an evolutionary function. Testosterone-deprived men are less likely to wander off in search of new mates to inseminate. They are also less aggressive, which is useful when there is a baby around.

Biological psychologists explain behaviours in neurological terms, i.e., the physiology and structure of the brain and how this influences behaviour.  Many biological psychologists have concentrated on abnormal behaviour and have tried to explain it.  For example, biological psychologists believe that schizophrenia is affected by levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter).

These findings have helped psychiatry take off and help relieve the symptoms of the mental illness365体育足球比分网 through drugs. However, Freud and other disciplines would argue that this just treats the symptoms and not the cause. This is where health psychologists take the finding that biological psychologists produce and look at the environmental factors that are involved to get a better picture.


Evolutionary Psychology

A central claim of evolutionary psychology is that the brain (and therefore the mind) evolved to solve problems encountered by our hunter-gatherer ancestors during the upper Pleistocene period over 10,000 years ago.

365体育足球比分网 The Evolutionary approach explains behaviour in terms of the selective pressures that shape behaviour. Most behaviours that we see/display are believed to have developed during our EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptation) to help us survive.

the environment of evolutionary adaptation

365体育足球比分网Observed behaviour is likely to have developed because it is adaptive. It has been naturally selected, i.e., individuals who are best adapted survive and reproduce. Behaviours may even be sexually selected, i.e., individuals who are most successful in gaining access to mates leave behind more offspring.

The mind is therefore equipped with ‘instincts’ that enabled our ancestors to survive and reproduce.

A strength of this approach is that it can explain behaviours that appear dysfunctional, such as anorexia, or behaviours that make little sense in a modern context, such as our biological stress response when finding out we are overdrawn at the bank.

Perspectives Conclusion

365体育足球比分网Therefore, in conclusion, there are so many different perspectives in psychology to explain the different types of behaviour and give different angles.  No one perspective has explanatory powers over the rest.

Only with all the different types of psychology, which sometimes contradict one another (nature-nurture debate), overlap with each other (e.g. psychoanalysis and child psychology) or build upon one another (biological and health psychologist) can we understand and create effective solutions when problems arise, so we have a healthy body and a healthy mind.

The fact that there are different perspectives represents the complexity and richness of human (and animal) behaviour. A scientific approach, such as Behaviorism or cognitive psychology, tends to ignore the subjective (i.e., personal) experiences that people have. 

365体育足球比分网The humanistic perspective does recognize human experience, but largely at the expense of being non-scientific in its methods and ability to provide evidence.  The psychodynamic perspective concentrates too much on the unconscious mind and childhood. As such, it tends to lose sight of the role of socialization (which is different in each country) and the possibility of free will.

The biological perspective reduces humans to a set of mechanisms and physical structures that are clearly essential and important (e.g., genes).  However, it fails to account for consciousness and the influence of the environment on behaviour.

How to reference this article:

365体育足球比分网McLeod, S. A. (2013). Psychology perspectives. Simply psychology: http://tamtamsono.com/perspective.html

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