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Compare and contrast two approaches Essay

Psychology is a huge science area with many variations on approach. Over many years Psychologists such as Freud, Skinner, Rogers and Watson, just to name a few, have contributed, providing us with invaluable tools to evaluate and treat mental illness, understand and treat phobias and indeed provide us with a window into the unconscious mind.

In particular, two areas of study have intrigued me, so I believe it would be useful to compare and contrast these two very different approaches. Not only will I compare the methods of research used but also will note any similarities or differences they may have and indeed the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. My chosen approaches to evaluate are Behaviourist V Psychoanalytic.

In 1913 John Watson published ‘ Psychology as the behaviourist view it’, in it he outlined his new ideas. These ideas were considered ‘new’ because Watson disagreed with Freud’s view of human behaviour; he dismissed it as ‘ philosophical to the point of mysticism’ (Watson 1913, citied by Christopher D. Green, York University). Watson also dismissed heredity as an important factor in human behaviour shaping. Watson stated that ‘The traditional methods of animal psychology are indeed the true method of scientific psychology’. (Watson 1913, citied by Christopher D. Green, York University). In this article Watson said

‘ The time seems to have come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness; when it need no longer delude itself into thinking that it is making mental states the object of observation ‘ (‘Psychology as the behaviourist views it’ John Watson, Psychological review, 1913}. By saying this Watson meant that Freud and other Psychoanalysts could not prove their theories and therefore were not scientific. Also they studied abnormal patients (mental patients) so therefore they could not have a true picture.

This publication did in fact establish ‘a new school of psychology, the School of Behaviourism’. The essential theories, which stand Watson out from the rest, are that he believed psychologists should look to the relationship between the environment and the behaviour, rather than the presumed contents of the consciousness. The principles that govern behaviour in animals and in humans are virtually identical.

Watson’s aim was to predict and control behaviour. He was able to provide evidence to his theories unlike other unreliable and unverifiable conscious experience studies.

A behaviourist believes that the environment motivates behaviour and that a stimulus will create a response, therefore, ‘humans are merely passive respondents.’ This approach rejects the unconscious mind and believes that only behaviour that can be observed should be studied. There are three main areas of study Classical conditioning (Pavlov), Operant conditioning (Skinner) and Observational learning (Bandura). Classical conditioning uses a stimulus response, Pavlov when experimenting with the dog and salivation, conditioned the dog to know when a treat was inevitable by using a bell as the stimulus.

He proved that the dog would salivate at the mere thought of food and therefore his learning was by association. In the Skinner experiment he used positive and negative reinforcement as forms of rewards or punishments, this was called Operant conditioning. Finally when using Observational learning (Bandura 1960) its proven to be far more scientific using laboratory for studies and experiments. This seems to be a far more objective approach.

The behaviourist approach has a more scientific and objective view and provides a counter argument to the nature theory. By using a few basic principles, behaviourism can explain many characteristics in both human and animal behaviours and has many practical applications. However, on a more negative note it can be said that behaviourism rejects the conscious mental experiences and assumes that individuals are not responsible for their own actions. In addition it over simplifies the explanations for behaviour and experiences.

The psychoanalytic approach was started and mainly developed by Sigmund Freud. He became interested in hysteria and was convinced that unconscious mental causes were responsible for all disorders and even ‘normal’ personalities. Freud’s approach and theory were greatly influenced by the technology of the time (locomotives) along with the work of hypnotist Charcot. Whilst talking to Charcot, Freud realized how talking about traumatic experiences relieved the symptoms of hysteria. He also made a connection between the role of sex and hysterical behaviour. Freud saw sex as a potential cause of emotional stress. Another great influence was Breuer who pioneered cathartic therapy. This therapy was known as the ‘Talking cure’.

Freud’s major technique was free association, were a patient would be encouraged to relax and express a free flow of thoughts entering their mind. Another popular therapy of Freud’s was Dream analysis where he would attempt to decode the symbols of a dream. His approach had a huge impact on psychology and psychiatry. Freud’s theory was developed further by Jung, Adler and Anna Freud (his daughter)

The Psychoanalyst believed that behaviour was influenced mainly by a part of the mind which we have no awareness of; this was called the Unconscious process. They also believed in Psychic determinism, which dictates whatever we say or do has a cause. Hydraulic drives were believed to create psychic energy which if not released would create tension and anxiety. The two basic drives, which this refers to, are the Sex drive and the aggressive drive. Apparently according to Freud, different parts of the unconscious mind were in constant struggle with each other called the Psychodynamic conflict.. He along with others believed that the personality was shaped as we entered different stages of development.

It has become apparent that the only similarity between these two approaches is that both Watson and Freud believed their theory could explain all concepts of human behaviour. They allowed no room for any other explanation. This in its self has causes doubt for both sides of the argument. It is obvious to the reader that there a very few similarities between these approaches, however it seems that both the pioneers solely thought their way was the only way. Both these men used their own theories to explain the same topics, such as: moral development, Aggression and Abnormalities.

There are strengths and weakness to all arguments and this one is no exception. Freud’s ideas made a large impact on psychology; however, his theories had little experimental support except on repression and fixation. The psychoanalytic approach has huge explanatory of power on a variety of subjects. His methods were regarded as ‘unscientific’ and incapable of being proved wrong. Many experiments carried out using this theory have failed to support Freud. Psychoanalyst therapy has been widely criticised.

Behaviourism was scientific and experimental and left a lasting effect on its subjects. It also provides a strong counter argument on the nature rather than nurture argument. Using simple principles, behaviourism can explain a great variety of phenomena and has many practical implications.

So what, if any gain has been made by society by these theories?

Far more has been gained from the Behaviour theories than that of the psychoanalyst. This is mainly due to the practical implications applied in today’s terms. The behaviourist approach has produced many practical implications such as education (programmed learning) also the treatment of those with behavioural disturbances such as phobias and behaviour shaping in autism. The Operant conditioning principles are used to train animals to do tasks. This approach has also been used in advertising and in child rearing. The only gain I can acknowledge from Freud and his theories is that of a therapy to help treat mental disorders. I find little evidence, however, that this theory actually works or indeed if the principles explain everything, I find it difficult to find any outcome in this theory. I find the Freudian theory (Psychoanalytic) to be inadequate and non scientific.

The behaviourist view seems to be a far more objective approach. It has a more scientific and objective view and provides a counter argument to the nature theory. By using a few basic principles, behaviourism can explain many characteristics in both human and animal behaviours and has many practical applications. However, on a more negative note it can be said that behaviourism rejects the conscious mental experiences and assumes that individuals are not responsible for their own actions. In addition it over simplifies the explanations for behaviour and experiences.


Watson, J.B, (1913) Psychology as the behaviour views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158-177

Thomas, R.K. (1997) American journal of psychology, 110, 115-125

Watson J.B (1914). Behaviour: An introduction to Comparative Psychology. New York: Holt.

Tony Malim & Ann Birch ‘Introduction to Psychology’ (1998)

Graham Hill ‘Psychology through Diagrams’ (1998)




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