As the behaviourist approach developed the work of B. F. Skinner identified the theory of operant conditioning which is also known as ‘stimulus response associations through the method of learning’ (Hayes, 1998: 4). Skinner showed through experimenting with rats, that if the rat was rewarded for doing a certain action it would be more likely to repeat the action. Skinner believed the same method could be used to build new actions when done gradually, a process known as behaviour shaping or behaviour modification.
The psychoanalytical approach focuses on how psychological problems could be understood and dates back to when Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) began his research. Freud used the term psychoanalysis to describe his techniques and theories in relation to finding and curing mental problems of his patients.
Not just concerned with mental disorders he also attempted to produce a set of theories to explain all human behaviour. According to Benson (1998: 48) Freud never achieved his goal of ‘One Grand Theory’ although there are some significant aspects to Freud’s theory. Firstly, the Conscious, Pre Conscious and Unconscious Mind, Freud describes this theory using the analogy of an iceberg. Benson (1998: 49) describes the Conscious as the top one seventh of the ice berg as ‘the awareness we have when we are awake’. The Pre Conscious or the boundary contains memories of dreams and Benson (1998: 49) refers to ‘slips of the tongue’ giving clues about thoughts and actions that appear in the Unconscious. The Unconscious is the remaining six sevenths of the iceberg and is explained by Benson (1998: 49) as ‘containing secret wishes and fears; traumatic memories of the past’. Freud believed that all thoughts in the Unconscious were completely hidden and inaccessible to us.
A further theory of Freud’s was that of Id, Ego and Super Ego. Freud believed the mind was made up of three parts, the Id developed at birth as the pleasure principle. From the age of two the next part of the mind to develop is the Ego which is the reality principle. The Super Ego is developed from the age of three and is influenced by parents or guardians. Freud believed that the Id and Ego stages are selfish whereas Super Ego considers others.
Freud also developed a theory of Psychosexual Development, he described the five stages as Oral (0-2 years), Anal (2-3 years), Phallic (3-6 years), Latent (6-11 years) and Genital (11+ years).
Freud developed methods to unconsciously protect a person from having unpleasant thoughts. These are referred to as regression, repression, displacement and sublimation. Benson (1998: 58) describes regression as ‘going back to an earlier stage’, repression as ‘pushing down unwanted ideas to the unconscious and keeping them there’, displacement as diverting energy (libido) into another activity’ and sublimation as healthy displacement. Benson (1998: 58).
Freud’s evidence was based on the experiences he gained from sessions with his patients which he then wrote up as case studies. His theories have been adapted by analysts, therapists and psychiatrists such as Alder (1870-1937), Jung (1875-1961) and Erikson (1902-1994). Although Freud’s work has had a great effect on modern societies in psychology Freud is classed as highly controversial. Popper (1959) classed Freud’s work as unscientific as the theories were not falsifiable. He proposed that for a theory to be scientific it must be possible to show evidence that the theory is false. An example of this provided by Benson is Freud’s dream interpretation concept, as this could not be proved or disproved Popper argued the theory was not scientific as it could not be falsified (Benson, 1998).
The cognitive approach has developed greatly since the work of Donald Broadbent during the 1950’s. The cognitive approach focuses on the way the brain processes information. As Heffernan (2000: 16) discussed ‘hypothetical
Constructs or models are used to develop knowledge and test predictions and psychological phenomena’. Cognitive psychologists use concepts from computer science to generate theories and computational models to account for the results of carefully controlled experiments designed to investigate cognitive capabilities and limitations. The main aim of cognitive psychology is to devise a unified, scientific theory of cognition.
The humanistic approach began with the work Abraham Maslow and
Carl Rogers. Humanistic psychologists focus on free will and personal choice and believe in the theory that every individual has the potential within them to achieve a greater level of functioning.
Maslow (1908 -1970) is often referred to as the founder of humanistic psychology with his belief that an individual strives to reach self actualisation as illustrated in his ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory. Author Thomas Heffernan describes the term self actualisation as:
the idea that people attempt to fulfil themselves
to their highest possible level of achievement
in their personal life, work life, etcetera
(Heffernan, 2000: 10)
Although reaching self actualisation is Maslow’s belief he also believed that few individuals ever get there. However, Maslow did maintain that there were five classes of needs ascending to self actualisation as displayed in his hierarchy of needs diagram. He defined the lowest level of needs as physiological which according to Heffernan (2000: 11) are basic needs such as food and water and ‘once these needs are satisfied, she or he can strive to achieve their next class of needs’. The second level of needs is shown on the diagram as safety and refers to having a safe and secure childhood through to adulthood. The third need is that of love and belonging and Heffernan (2000: 11) refers to this need as ‘feeling that one belongs somewhere and loved by others’. The fourth need is esteem and is described by Heffernan (2000: 11) as ‘the need to be respected by others’. Heffernan (2000: 11) states that only when an individual reaches this level and fulfils their needs at this level does he or she ‘become self actualised’.
The biological approach is the only perspective in psychology that examines thoughts, emotions and behaviour from a medical point of view. Therefore, biological psychologists have developed a great understanding of how the nervous system operates, how the brain functions and how artificial stimulants can have an impact on physiology and thus impacting on behaviour. The biological approach believes that a person becomes ill (psychologically or medically) through disease, accident or because of genetic or physiological damage.
Charles Darwin’s work had a great influence on this approach and one development that emerged from Darwin was his theory of evolution, defined by Heffernan (2000: 7) as determining social behaviour by ‘biological factors and gene survival’. Although the biological approach has had a positive impact on conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and anxiety, other behavioural or cognitive factors can lead to psychopathology without a clear ‘biological determinant’ (Heffernan, 2000: 8)
The biomedical model of abnormality is an example of how the biological approach has had an impact on the study of humans. The following quote highlights the problem with such a restricted approach:
The biomedical approach assumes that abnormality is an illness that exists within the body, as opposed, for example, to the idea that society is the cause of abnormality. (Heffernan, 2000: 7)
As the above quote highlights, the biological approach directs itself towards the nature side of the ‘nature–nurture’ debate and not the nurture side.
To conclude I will summarise the five approaches, the psychoanalytical approach believes that behaviour is a result of unconscious processes and early childhood experiences. Its methodology relies heavily on interpreting patient discussions, dreams and fantasies, case studies and little experimentation. The behaviourist approach believes that behaviour is learned and selected by environmental consequences. The research relies very much on laboratory experiments where the factors studied can be controlled. Data collection can also take place in an everyday environment where more natural behaviour is studied and far more variables exist. The cognitive approach believes that behaviour is a result of information processing, storage in the brain, transformation and the retrieval of information. The methods of collecting data are experimentation but with much use of computer modelling. The humanistic approach is concerned with person centred counselling whereas the biological approach is the only perspective in psychology that examines behaviour from a medical point of view. Of the five approaches discussed, each approach has similarities to the traditional sciences and all undertake controlled experiments not unlike the traditional sciences, for example the cognitive approach and the use of computer modelling.
Although every psychological experiment and theory is evaluated with the same level of detail, the approaches do not go without being criticised. The cognitive approach was criticised in the early years because it heavily relied on laboratory experiments. However these days it contrasts well with the humanistic approach as research is undertaken in the laboratory and in field studies. It must be noted that humanistic psychology has in the past been criticised due to the fact that it cannot be tested via a scientific method. In comparison the behaviourist approach is often criticised as a study of humans as not enough emphasis is placed on the role of other factors when determining a person’s behaviour, such as the cognitive processes that can lead to a certain type of behaviour. The biological approach is criticised for not taking into account the fact that societal or environmental factors may cause illness that can affect behaviour. An example of this discussed by Heffernan (2000: 7) is that ‘behavioural and cognitive factors (such as direct negative experience or irrational thoughts) can lead to psychopathology, without any clear biological determinant’.
I feel I have shown sufficient evidence to confirm that psychology fulfils the definition of science. I believe each approach adds to the successful study of the psychology whether as an individual approach or combined approach. I have highlighted positive and negative aspects of each perspective and feel I have shown that psychologists use scientific methods in an attempt to predict, change and improve behaviour in addition to evaluating treatment strategies.
Hayes, N. (1998) Foundations of Psychology. An Introductory Text (Second Edition)
Benson, N. (1998) Introducing Psychology.
Cambridge: Icon Books
Heffernan, T. (2000) A Student’s Guide to Studying Psychology (Second Edition)
London: Psychology Press Ltd.
Huffman, K. (2006) Living Psychology
London: Wiley & Son
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia Standard Edition (2005)