What Are The Major Approaches To Psychology Psychology Essay


There are ten different approaches to psychology. The historical approaches include: Structuralism, Functionalism, Gestalt, and Behaviorism; while the modern approaches are: the Biological approach, Cognitive approach, Behavioral approach, Psychodynamic approach, and Humanistic approach.

The first school of thought was Structuralism. The goal of this approach was to analyze the structure of the mind by breaking it down into its most basic components using a method called Introspection, in which subjects were asked to do certain tasks and then report their sensations and perceptions. The most important figures that represent this approach are Wilhelm Wundt, and his student Edward B. Titchener. Wundt founded the first psychology laboratory, but it was Titchener who dispersed his ideas, by bringing them to the United States. The weaknesses of this approach were that it was too focused on unobservable behavior and that the methods used to study the mind were too subjective and lacked reliability. On the good side, Structuralism was the first approach to appear, and it contributed to Experimental Psychology.

The second approach to appear was Functionalism, which studies the functions of the mind rather than its structure, analyzes how the mind adapts to different environments, and stressed individual differences. Functionalism was created by William James, because he didn’t agree with Wundt’s Structuralism; and was greatly influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection, which stated that features evolved for a purpose, and James’s goal was to find why the mind had evolved. Functionalism also influenced behaviorism, and, because James suggested ways to apply psychological principles to teaching, the educational system.

Another scientist that disagreed with Structuralism, but this time about the view of apparent motion, was Max Wertheimer. He believed that the structuralists could not explain the perception of apparent motion (they said that the movement resulted from adding the sensations of two fixed lights), and he argued that perceptual experiences resulted from seeing a whole pattern, and so created the gestalt approach, which stresses that perceptions are more than the sum of their parts and that sensations are the assembled into meaningful perceptual experiences. The gestalt approach is still used today to explain how objects are perceived.

John Watson also disagreed with Wundt, arguing that introspection could not be scientifically proven by other psychologists. He, instead, came up with behaviorism, which stressed the analysis of observable behaviors only, and it also emphasized that behaviors are obtained through conditioning. There are two types of conditioning: Classical conditioning, and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning was created by Ivan Pavlov, and it is a kind of learning in which a neutral stimulus gains the ability to create a response, that before was created by an unconditioned stimulus. Pavlov tested classical conditioning in a dog, his neutral stimulus was a bell, a bone his unconditioned stimulus, and the response was the dog salivating. Pavlov would ring the bell and then show the dog the bone, to which the dog would salivate. After repeating this process, the dog would start salivating only with the sound of the bell. Operant conditioning was developed by B. F. Skinner, and it is a type of learning in which behaviors are modified depending if the environment is gratified of punished for that behavior. Operant condition includes Edward Thorndike’s law of effects, which states that if a behavior is followed by a positive consequence, it will be more likely to happen again, while if the behavior is followed by a negative consequence it is weakened. Skinner tested Operant conditioning using a rat inside a Skinner box, which contains a bar that every time is pushed releases food. The rat was rewarded if it touched the bar, so that the chances of the rat repeating the behavior increase. Behaviorism was criticized because it doesn’t take in account thoughts, and feelings, and because it doesn’t explain behaviors that are neither punished nor reinforced. On the positive side, the results from these experiments can be proved by other psychologists; and can help to correct maladaptive behaviors.

There are six modern approaches to psychology. They work together, complementing each other, to get a whole perspective of the issue. The Biological approach’s main idea is to study how our learning, personality, motivation, etc, is influenced by the interaction between the environment and our genes. This approach is influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The biological approach searches for biological causes for mental illnesses; Psycho-biologists use brain scans such as the MRI and FMRI to look for brain damage. Using the biological approach, psycho-biologists have discovered that schizophrenia is caused by the over production of dopamine, and that depression is the result of the neurons being dull to serotonin; among so much more.

The cognitive approach studies how we process, store, and use information, and how this information influences how we believe, perceive, learn, feel, and remember. This approach appeared because of the dissatisfaction about Behaviorism’s lack of studies on what goes on inside people’s mind. This approach was influenced by Jean Piaget and is stages of cognitive development (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete, and formal), which describe the cognitive changes occurring between infancy and childhood; Edward Tolman, who studied cognitive processes in animals, laying the groundwork for the same studies in humans; and Albert Bendura, who came up with a kind of learning called Social Cognitive learning, which, he defined, resulted from watching a behavior, and doesn’t require the observer to do any observable behavior.

The Behavioral approach comes from Behaviorism, and they are pretty similar, but the behavioral approach focuses on how behaviors can be learnt or modified depending on the consequences that follow these behaviors that can be either negative or positive. This approach, as previously said, is influenced from Behaviorism, and therefore, for the work of B. F Skinner, Ivan Pavlov in Classical and Operant conditioning.

The Psychodynamic approach is based on the belief that childhood experiences affect adult personality and the development of mental disorders greatly; and it emphasizes the influence that unconscious desires and thoughts have on behavior. The psychoanalytic approach is based on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and psychodynamic theory of personality, which explains how we develop our personality through five psychosexual stages (oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital); and the development of three divisions of the mind, the Id (pleasure principle), with which we are born with, the Ego (reality principle), which develops during infancy, and the Superego (moral standards), which develops during childhood. The psychodynamic theory also includes Freudian techniques used in psychoanalysis, such as free association, dream interpretation, and the analysis of Freudian slips, or slips of the tongue. The psychoanalytic approach is used to search for unconscious forces and conflicts underlying psychological and physiological symptoms.

The humanistic approach emphasizes the potential of each individual in electing their future and directing their lives. It assures that each individual has a huge capacity to achieve self-fulfillment. The humanistic approach appears because there wasn’t much attention put on the individual’s self-worth and capacity to fulfill his/her drams and goals. The humanistic approach is based on the works of Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow. Carl Rogers developed the concept of Self-theory or Self-actualization, which is based on two assumptions: the development of personality is guided by a person’s self-actualization tendency (tendency to develop all our capacities for the well being of our lives); and that everyone has a need for positive regard (feelings of sympathy we crave from everyone who’s important to us). Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs (both biological and social), which he named Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy proposes how we tend our needs, according to it, our biological needs are at the bottom of the hierarchy and our social needs at the top. The hierarchy has five levels, and to escalate through these levels, the most basic needs have to be fulfilled. The first levels are the biological needs (food, sleep, sex), the second level the safety needs (protection from harm), the third level the love and belonging needs (affiliation with others), the fourth level the esteem needs (gaining approval and recognition), and the last and most important one is self actualization, which is the fulfillment of one’s unique potential. Many of this approach’s ideas have been used on counseling and psychotherapy; but because of its free-will concept and lack of experimental methods, it is considered more of a life philosophy than study of human behavior.

The last approach to psychology is the Cross-cultural approach. The objective of this approach is to study and analyze the influences that our cultural and ethnic background on psychological functioning; as example, the rates of depression in countries all around the world are different because of the cultural and ethnic differences between those countries.

2- Having read “Essentials of psychology I and II choose a psychologist and provide an explanation of their contribution to the field. What was their main idea? How is it applied?

Of Austrian nationality, and born on May 6th, 1856, Sigmund Freud is psychology’s most famous figure. His work helped us form our points of view of personality, sexuality, childhood, memory, and therapy. Freud is recognized by his controversial way of thinking and ideas. He was a medical doctor specialized in neurology. Because of his profession, he came to the realization that mental illnesses not always have a physiological reason. He then suggested that mental illnesses could be caused by unconscious forces of the mind. Sigmund Freud’s most important contributions to psychology are his topographic (conscious, preconscious, and unconscious) and structural (Id, Ego, and Superego) model of the mind, his psychodynamic theory of personality, psychosexual stages of development, the Ego’s defense mechanisms, Psychoanalysis and introspection, and his techniques to unlock the unconscious. He also introduced the concept of repressed memories. Freud’s ideas are all interconnected, making it difficult to understand just one concept. Freud is most recognized because of his psychodynamic theory of personality and the development of psychoanalysis.

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Starting with the psychodynamic theory of personality (which pretty much contains all the other concepts); this theory emphasizes the importance of unconscious conflicts, repressed memories, and early childhood experiences in the development of personality and social skills. His major assumptions about personality were that childhood experiences greatly influence our personality during adulthood, that unconscious forces affect behavior, and that conflict in-between the mind causes behavior.

Freud’s topographic model of the mind divides the mind in three sections: The conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The conscious are thoughts and wishes or whatever we are aware of. The preconscious is information that one is only barely aware of but can recall easily (such as birthdays); and the unconscious are thoughts, wishes, and information in general that are inaccessible and beyond our awareness. Just about ten percent of our mind is thought to be conscious, while the remaining ninety percent is unconscious. The unconscious if constituted by thoughts and memories which are threatening to our self-image, and therefore, are repressed deep into the mind. Freud’s topographic model of the mind would explain why is it that we say and do certain things without us being able to explain it.

The cause of behavior, according to Freud, are the conflicts in-between the mind. The structural model of the mind maps the three divisions of the mind involved in these conflicts: the Id, Ego, and Superego. Starting with the Id, which is completely unconscious. Each person is born with an Id, to guarantee their survival, as the Id seeks pleasure without regard for social acceptable behaviors (This would explain why newborn babies just care about sleeping and eating, and cry when they don’t feel comfortable.) The Id also contains the libido, which Freud described to be our internal psychic energy. The libido is guided by two basic instincts: Sexuality and Aggression, in the search of pleasure. During infancy, and from the Id, the Ego is created. The Ego is part conscious and part unconscious, and it acts like a mediator between the Id and the real world, trying to satisfy moral rules, and the Id’s need for pleasure. Then, during early childhood, from the Ego this time, the Superego is created. As well as the Ego, the id is part conscious and unconscious. It represents society’s moral rules, our values and beliefs, it tells us what’s good and wrong, and it’s also in constant disagreement with the Id. According to Freud, the conflicts between these two ‘entities’ are what cause behavior.

Behavior isn’t the only result from conflicts between the Id and Superego. According to Freud, there are circumstances when the Ego is incapable of satisfying both of them; these situations produce anxious feelings, which are that uneasy feelings that result from the conflicts between the Id and Superego along with the Ego’s attempts to resolve the problem. As these feelings are threatening for our self-image, the ego has ways to protect itself from them. These ways of protection are what Freud called ‘Defense Mechanisms’. There are nine defense mechanisms: rationalization, repression, reaction formation, regression, projection, displacement, sublimation, intellectualization, and denial. Rationalization is, basically, covering up unacceptable thoughts/events with false excuses; an example would be saying that you got detention because the teacher hates you, when in reality; it was because of your poor behavior. Repression is pushing unacceptable feelings/events to the unconscious; an example is not remembering a bad experience. Reaction Formation consists of replacing an anxiety-causing thought/event by its direct opposite; as example, a person that hates a race/culture might embrace it extremely. Regression refers to showing childish behavior when an anxiety-inducing situation is presented. Projection occurs when unconsciously we falsely attribute our own unacceptable behavior to others; an example could be homophobia. Displacement consists of directing your feelings about a person or object that causes anxiety to a less threatening target; as example, a person who is reprimanded by its boss, might engage into a fight with a member of its family. Sublimation is when converting an unacceptable thought (which are usually sexual) into a socially acceptable one; as example, a person decides to become a surgeon because of its impulse to cut. Intellectualization refers to ignoring unacceptable emotions and, instead, focusing on the intellectual facts. An example would be a person that faces the death of a relative and focuses in planning the funeral instead of the grief and sadness. And lastly, Denial, which, as the name suggests, is denying desires/events that are evident to anyone; an example is denying you are an alcoholic. The existence of some the defense mechanisms are easy to verify, and some scientists think we even tend to use one over the others; but even though defense mechanisms help us reduce anxiety levels, the can prevent us from admitting the true cause of that anxiety if they’re overused.

The other part of the psychodynamic theory of personality says that childhood experiences determine the personality during adulthood. Freud created a series of stages we go through our lives in order to form our personalities, each having a conflict for us to solve, and a consequence if we fail to do so; he called these stages psychosexual stages. The conflicts appear when the child seeks pleasure through its erogenous zones, and during the three first stages, if the person fails to overcome the conflict, he or she is to be fixated on it. Fixation refers to a process through which a person becomes locked in one of the first three psychosexual stages because, either his/her wishes were under gratified or over gratified. The five psychosexual stages are, in order: the Oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, Latency stage, and Genital stage. The Oral stage lasts for about the first eighteen months in a child’s life, and the pleasure-seeking is centered in the mouth, and therefore, the child engages in activities such as sucking, chewing, and biting. If fixation occurs in this stage, the person would continue to seek oral gratification, engaging in activities such as chain smoking, sarcasm, excessive gum chewing, obsessive eating, and alcohol problems. The Anal stage lasts from the eighteenth month to the thirty-sixth month. During this stage, the child’s pleasure seeking is centered on the anus and its processes of elimination. If fixation occurs during this stage, the adult will continue to engage in activities of elimination or retention. Elimination results on the adult being extremely messy, generous, and carefree; while retention results on the adult being overly neat, rigid in behavior, and even develop a fear of dirt. The Phallic stage lasts from the third to sixth years of life, and the child’s pleasure seeking is centered on the genitals. This stage is especially important because of the development of Oedipus complex (in boys), and Electra complex and penis envy (in girls). This complex drives the child to compete with the parent of the same sex for the affection of the parent of the opposite sex. The child resolves the complex when he/she starts identifying with the parent of the same sex. If fixation occurs during this stage, meaning that the child couldn’t get over the Oedipus or Electra complex, it can bring different consequences for boys and girls. If boys don’t get over the Oedipus complex, they might go through life trying to prove their toughness; while if girls don’t get over the Electra complex and penis envy, the woman may go through her life feeling she is inferior to men. The latency stage lasts from the sixth to twelfth year (or puberty). During this stage the child represses sexual thoughts and engages in developing social and intellectual skills. And the last stage, the Genital stage, lasts from puberty onward. During this stage the individual’s sexual desires have reawakened as he seeks to fulfill them through relationships with other people. Even though Freud’s theories would explain a good deal of human behavior, they are pretty much impossible to prove and he was much criticized because of that. Another reason Freud’s theories were criticized by many of his followers was because of his emphasis on sexuality and aggression, and childhood experiences in personality development, resulting in some of them developing alternate theories. These people are called Neo-Freudians, and focus on cultural and social factors.

Freud is also famous because of the development of psychoanalysis, a form of insight therapy, used to treat mental disorders. Psychoanalysis focuses on the idea that each person has unconscious/repressed thoughts, memories, or wishes that create unconscious conflicts. These conflicts can result in physiological and psychological symptoms, and mental disorders; all which conform what Freud called Neuroses. The goal of Psychoanalysis is for the patient to understand his unconscious conflicts and repressed thoughts. Freud developed three techniques in order to accomplish this: Free association (encourage clients to talk about anything and everything), Dream interpretation (Freud believed that dreams are a door to the unconscious and therefore the Id manifests freely in them, though Dream interpretation, the latent content of dreams was analyzed), and the analysis of Freudian slips (slips of the tongue in everyday speech, that we cannot explain.) By interpreting what the patient says during the session, the therapist has a chance of revealing the patient’s unconscious desires; but Freud also noted that there are problems during therapy. He noted that the client would turn hostile or even refuse to attend to therapy. He called these two adversities transference and resistance. Transference occurs when the patient directs strong feelings toward the therapist because the last substitutes for someone important in the client’s life; an example is being hostile towards the therapist. Resistance refers to the client avoiding therapy; an example is being late to therapy or missing sessions. Psychoanalysis decreased its popularity due to the lack of research, and a number of new therapies that came out at the time; but through time many ideas of Freud’s classical psychoanalysis were used to develop a new kind of therapy: the Psychoanalytic approach, which has the therapist take a more directive role, decreasing the number of sessions, and with it the price of the whole therapy.

Sigmund Freud is a crucial figure in psychology, because he gave a foundation to psychology besides influencing modern culture. Many of our beliefs today, about childhood, personality, and unconscious thought we owe to him. Psychology just wouldn’t be the same without Freud’s ambitious, controversial, and unique theories.




Approximately 250 words